Asking what things mean

 Sometimes people say abstract things that aren’t very comprehensible.

Sometimes this is because they are assuming background knowledge you don’t have.

Sometimes this is because they’re referencing something complicated, and not being clear.

Sometimes this is because they aren’t actually saying much, and are using convoluted words to sound like they are.

It is possible to ask for clarification, but not directly. You can’t say “Did you actually say anything?” But you can often get clarification with one of these kinds of questions:

  • That sounds really interesting, can you say more about it?
  • I’m not sure I understood, can you give me an example?
  • That concept sounds really great, but I’m not sure I quite got it – how does that work in concrete terms?
This frames things as you listening, wanting to understand, and asking for their help in understanding. (Which is in fact what you are doing, even if you suspect that they aren’t saying much.) This usually doesn’t offend anyone, because people like to be understood.

(That said, people do sometimes take offense, and if they start to take offense, back off right away rather than trying to explain the intent of your question. It won’t help.)