Not Really a Joking Matter

“Eso si que es!”  This evening, the ages-old punch line to a joke came to my mind. It was almost fifty years ago that my father told me the joke, but I couldn’t help but think about the ancient gag tonight as I realized that, once again, communication has broken down.  The result is frustration and accusation, with a few recriminations tossed in for good measure.

Okay, first the joke.  The old Hispanic fellow walked into the Woolworth store (it was fifty years ago, remember?), where no one spoke Spanish, and he started looking for something.  The salesman tried to help, asking again and again what it was that the man needed.  Finally, as he wandered down near the shoe department, the old guy exclaimed, “Eso si que es!” (approximate translation: “That’s it!”) while pointing to the rack upon which the socks were displayed. The salesman retorted, disgustedly, “Well, why didn’t you spell it in the first place?”  I’ll leave you to work that one out (hint: you may have to pronounce the Spanish words aloud) and move on to the present reality.

The customer received her order today.  Her email to us tonight communicates her unhappiness very distinctly.  “You people ought to be ashamed!   I paid good money for nothing!  I will never order from you people again!”  I won’t go into the details of the order, because they don’t matter.  What does matter is that this lady thought she was ordering something which she did not receive.  Wondering if we were actually at fault, I went back and read the description of the product online.  It describes the item very clearly…to me.  What happened here?

When we set up our online catalog, we discussed and argued; we wrote and rewrote.  We wanted to be certain that the articles were described precisely and simply.  Then we went back and rewrote some more.  The catalog went live and weeks passed.  We kept track of the comments and questions.  Then we sat down again and discussed and argued; we wrote and rewrote some more.  We have done our best to make clear what we are selling.  But, every once in awhile, a customer will order something and then ask to return it because it wasn’t what they thought they were ordering.  Whose fault is this?  Who is not communicating?

Well, like the fellow in the tired old joke, sometimes we just don’t speak the same language as those with whom we are attempting to exchange information.  The written word can be a powerful thing, but it can also be an unwieldy tool; inflexible and limited by both its authors and its readers.  When we find a person with whom we don’t share a common vocabulary–and it’s not always a different language, but sometimes just a different environment and culture–we have to work to find a more universal understanding.  We will be doing that in the next day or two with our customer.  Because we don’t actually sell the product she thought she was ordering, we will probably not be doing business with her again.  That doesn’t change our responsibility to be civil and work out an equitable conclusion to our business transaction.  We will attempt to communicate in honesty and with compassion.  Time will tell if our efforts are successful.

Have you ever been on either side of this scenario?  Neither position is a pleasant place to be, is it?  Each party thinks he or she is right.  Depending on the temperament and reaction of both people, the situation can become tense.  Accusations can fly.  Tempers can be temporarily mislaid.  I know.  I’ve reacted wrongly more times than it is comfortable to admit.  Again and again though, the key to resolution is more and better communication.   The obvious conclusion of the matter is that, as long as the lines remain open, communication will eventually result.  Cut those lines and all hope of success is lost.

Having said that, I want to make another point that should be obvious.  It is better to communicate well in the first place.  We’ll be discussing our descriptive phrases in our catalog again very soon; of that, you may be sure.  Time and money, as well as goodwill, are lost every time a customer misunderstands what they are reading.  We need to speak with clarity and with precision to avoid misconceptions and errors.  As the old saw goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

So, how are your communication skills?  Do you work on them regularly?  Our relationships depend on good communication.  Husbands…“Huh?” and “Yeah,” don’t cut it.  Usually, communication requires complete sentences. Wives…“You don’t ever…” is not a good way to start a discussion.  If you think you’re not appreciated, talk about it.  If you’re overwhelmed, say that. And, don’t quit trying.  I guarantee you that silence will not be effective communication.  The other person in the relationship may understand that you’re unhappy, but they will never understand the reason, nor find the solution.  Keep talking!

And don’t forget the exhortation that the Preacher offered so succinctly so many years ago:  “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.”  In your communication, remember that love and truth are to be intertwined.  Speak the truth clearly, but do it for the right reason.

With a little effort, the communication barrier can be broken.  Unlike breaking the sound barrier, no explosion will result.  But, like the sound barrier, you’ll never break the communication barrier if you just sit still.

It’s time we were up and talking!

“In the same way, unless you speak an intelligible message with your language, how will anyone know what is being said? You’ll be talking into the air!”
(I Corinthians 4:9~ISV)

“Men and women belong to different species and communications between them is still in its infancy.
(Bill Cosby~American comedian and actor)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *