A couple of weeks ago I went to my first deposition. I was asked to be there because some people in my neighborhood were filing a protest against a new development that was being built nearby. I don't know all of the details (which will become more apparent as you read on) but I was asked by "our" lawyer to come in and answer some questions.
I walked into a room full of lawyers, specialists, and a bona fide court reporter. We all sat down and the grilling began. I replied to many of the questions with "I don't know...I'm not sure...I can't recall." I clearly wasn't prepared for this thing.
At one point, the lawyer asking most of the questions asked me if I had spoken to William personally, the man who was heading up our protest. I didn't recall speaking to anyone named William and responded "no." Time and again, he asked if I had spoken to "William." Time and again I gave the same response, "I have never spoken to William."
Later in the questioning, the lawyer asked me to talk about what I knew from my neighbors who were also part of the petition. I told him I had only talked to two neighbors: Bob and Bill.
"Bill? You"ve spoken to Bill?" he followed up with.
"Yes. Many times." I replied.
The questioning kept going. He kept aksing about my conversations with William (whom I've never spoken to) and I kept talking about my conversations with Bill.
On my way home, I called my wife and described the deposition. "It was wierd. The guy kept asking me if I talked to this guy named William." After a brief silence on the phone, my wife laughed and said, "Ummm, Tim, William is Bill." Okay...I'm an idiot.
If it hasn't become clear to you yet (as it hadn't for me during the deposition) "Bill" is a shortened version of the name "William." I missed that point during the deposition. I think I'm definitely not going to be called as a witness on this one.
So what did I learn?
Sometimes two people can be talking about the same thing, even agreeing on a certain point of view, and not realize it. They call it semantics. Often it's just a misunderstanding - two people with the same mental image, but choosing to use different words. The lawyer was talking about William. I kept referring to Bill. Same guy.
As I think back on this experience, I think it would have been important for me to ask a few questions of my own. Clarifying questions are important when there is confusion. In fact, questions are often a better response when there's tension or disagreement. You might even discover that you have more in common with the other person than you think.
I'm just glad the lawyer didn't ask me if I ever spoke to Robert.