I work in a multi-national company and interacts with various personalities from different cultures. Sometimes I get lucky and get to work with a really cryptic, sometimes antagonizing colleague. Example:
me: I’d like to understand further what you meant by this …
colleague: It is self-explanatory.
In the first place, if it is indeed self-explanatory I wouldn’t have asked him for clarification already would I? I admit that I initially get upset with emails like this and feels like retaliating in the same tone. But experience taught me that it won’t address the problem and it won’t be professional to do so. I already know that such tone is upsetting to a reader, why would I want to inflict the same negative feeling to another (which I already felt)? I am better than that.
Working with Americans made me shed away some of inhibitions. If I truly don’t understand something I ask. Whereas before, I would smile along to a joke I didn’t get and pretend I understood. Wrong. It is okay to be wrong at times and it is a given that we don’t know everything, specially if you’re coming from a different culture. Otherwise, they would assume you fully understand what’s discussed.
It is not a sin to ask and clarify. You can use these phrases:
Did you mean this …?
Are we saying…?
I’m sorry, I didn’t get what you last said, can you repeat that?
Just to clarify, what we’ll do is …?
Am I understanding it right, do we …?