My Biggest Communication Mistake

It was the early 90’s. I was working in a training consultancy, busy delivering Performance Management workshops within a large (very large) magazine publishing company. The courses were being well received, so much so, that one day I received a telephone call from the Personnel & Training Manager (remember personnel departments?!) saying that she’d like to offer the courses to other parts of the organisation and that there was a particular editor she wanted me to meet.
Fantastic! My client was calling me with the potential of more work. No cold-calling required. This lead wasn’t lukewarm – it was hypothetically hot!
It took a while to find a mutually convenient date, but eventually I found myself in the office of the aforementioned editor. She was on the ‘phone at the time – one of the 3 'phones on her desk jostling for space among a mountain of paperwork – various pages of “copy” and goodness only knows what else. You couldn’t see the surface of the desk it was so cluttered. A coffee table in the room was equally “disarranged”! The call was about some “deadline”. No sooner had she replaced the receiver (yes, dear reader, it was one of those “old-fashioned” ‘phones!) – when another one rang. She tried, unsuccessfully, to do the “… can I call you back later …” response, but ended up having to offer some pretty “direct advice” to someone!
Silence Isn’t Always Golden!
As she put down the (2nd) ‘phone I extended my hand and said “… wow – look at your desk …!” She fixed me with a quizzical look and we exchanged a very limp handshake. She then sat back in her large, leather (swivel) armchair and said ….. absolutely nothing! (I’d experienced a time a bit like this some years previously. It had involved a Headmistress seeking an “explanation”!).
Unperturbed, I launched into my fact-finding mission using the tried and tested open questions that had always served me so well in the past.
Somehow, she managed to answer every enquiry monosyllabically! It wasn’t long before I found myself answering my own questions simply because I couldn’t bear the awkward silences that were developing rapidly. When she reached the point of openly sighing (which, if my memory serves me right, didn’t take that long), I knew drastic measures were called for.
Re-think Required
I put down my pen, looked her in the eye and (rather bravely, I thought) suggested that I had obviously done something wrong, but that I wasn’t sure exactly what! Her fixed, quizzical look morphed into one of utter disdain as she replied (and I remember her words as if it was only yesterday) “… I don’t want to do business with someone who thinks my desk is messy …”!
OMG! Talk about my “intent” and my “impact” being totally at odds with one another!
You see – I’d committed the cardinal sin that results in mis-communication. I’d disregarded the fact that communication doesn’t occur within a void – it’s “situational”. It wasn’t that I’d not been inundated with clues – I’d simply ignored them:
Clue 1 – it had taken several attempts to secure the meeting
Clue 2 – she had THREE ’phones on her desk for crying out loud
Clue 3 – the first call I’d “overheard” was about a deadline
Clue 4 – the second call had been “sharp” (to say the least!) …
This woman was seriously busy. Her desk epitomised her situation. She was a hardworking lady with an important role to fulfil. The magazine for which she was responsible was the company’s flagship publication. From her perspective, my comment about her desk had somehow “questioned” her work ethic! Remember: effective communication involves our eyes just as much – if not more – than our mouths! (didn’t Mr Mehrabian tell us that over 50% of the communication process is non-verbal?).
We Can Help
Have you ever “put your foot in it”? Have you ever wished you’d taken a deep breath before launching into a response? At Speak The Speech we know that meaningful communication involves more than words. Our Executive Communication Skills, Effective Conversations and Building Trust programmes all embrace the key concepts of truly effective interaction – conveying messages with our “whole” selves – whether that’s on a “formal” or “informal” basis. Visit our website Speak The Speech where you can access information about the courses we offer. Have a look at our workshop overviews to help you decide which one is right for you and contact us for more information. We’ll communicate with you as effectively as possible!
Bravery Required
How did I salvage the situation? I asked her to “… bear with me …”, got up and left the office, knocked on the door, entered and said “… wow – I can tell from your desk that you’re extremely busy – don’t let me take up more of your time than is absolutely necessary …”
We didn’t end up bosom pals exactly, but she did give me a year’s subscription free!
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