Thursday, June 15, 2006

Stupid or Not Communicating

One day I visited a fast-food restaurant to get some food. I had already had a long day, and just wanted something quick to eat. I just ordered a plain hamburger, with no toppings. I said to the woman at the counter, "I want a plain hamburger with nothing on it."

She looked at me puzzled, and asked me to repeat myself. I said the same thing. She responded by saying, "That's impossible sir. I can't do that."

"Well, why not?"

"I don't know how to charge you for two pieces of bread?"

"Huh? I don't want two pieces of bread. I want a plain hamburger, no cheese, no ketchup, no nothing."

"I can't give you nothing."

"I want a hamburger, with the hamburger bread as a sandwich! And that's it. Nothing extra."

"Oh. What you are trying to say, sir, is that you want a hamburger with nothing on it."

"Yes, of course," I said with a sigh.

I thought about the encounter. What just happened? Is she stupid? Was I not communicating what I really wanted? What needs to happen to make this scenario work out better next time? What words do I choose to use? Maybe, it is just miscommunication? I don't really know. Maybe, she just wasn't listening to me, and she made some assumptions in her own mind?

This got me thinking about how this applies to business communication, and how we communicate in general. Communication is not a one-way conversation, nor is not about winning an argument. Hopefully, it is about coming to a point of reality. What are we really talking about? What are we trying to accomplish, and are we accomplishing it?

We sometimes spend too much time trying to fulfill some unmet need, misplaced anger, or just plain not listening to one another. It can happen with the best of intentions.

The solution to achieve good communication is that both or all parties must want it. All parties must listen while the other speaks. All parties must be willing to lay aside their agendas to see if they understand each other. Then communication begins to really happen. But until then, businesses and individuals, in their communications or marketing, will only have one-way conversations if they don't understand these principles.


  1. I went to a MacDonald's in Germantown MD a couple of years ago. I said I wanted the "Special" as advertised in the five foot tall board right behind the cashier. It was something along the lines of "free fries with regular Big Mac". The cashier politely told me that he couldn't sell that as that button was broken. I tried to explain that it was the same price as a regular Big Mac, but no. Sorry sir, the "Special" button is broken. But you can pay for fries with your Big Mac if you'd like..." ??

    The cashier actually thought I'd be pleased to know that he'd let me pay full price for something that was on sale.

  2. This happens a lot. I wonder if it has a lot to do with the amount of ownership one has in one's work, and the amount of trust an owner or manager has in one's employees that causes the senerios to work out the way that they do.


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