If you have time, I’d love you to try and come over for dinner tonight.” That’s what I said to him on the phone. He seemed a little distracted, maybe watching a game on TV while he offhandedly said, “Sure.” So I made a lovely dinner of roast chicken and potatoes (his favorite)… and he never showed! He didn’t call and he didn’t show. I was furious.
I called him the next morning – still fuming. “I sat here until the dinner got cold, waiting for you to show,” I wailed. “Whaaat? You said to try – if I had time. I went bowling with a couple of the guys and by the time we finished it was after 9 so I went home.”
It wasn’t my first miscommunication (and it is not likely to be my last). Similar incidents are happening all over the world right now… as I type. They are happening in homes, at work, on the ski slopes and at restaurants. What is said isn’t ‘exactly’ what you meant’ and what is heard isn’t ‘exactly’ what you meant.
There’s communication and there’s ‘effective’ communication. Effective communication is simple and direct and requires, among other things, a shared understanding. Ooops, missed that!
If I had been more direct and clear the conversation could have been more like this (and we’d both be happier):
“I’m making roast chicken tonight. It’s your favorite and I want to share it with you. Can you be here at 7 for dinner tonight?”
“Sure. I’m going bowling with the guys and I’ll make sure to leave by 6:45.”
“Great, so you’ll be here at 7 for dinner?”
“You bet. I can taste it already!”
I didn’t want to sound pushy so I gave him a couple of false cues… “if you have time” and “try”. I didn’t mean either one, but I expected him to get the underlying meaning. And, although I wanted to know that he was definitely joining me, I never got any strong assurance – in fact I remember thinking that he wasn’t ‘really’ listening at all. He, on the other hand, focused on the conditional components of my conversation and felt no guilt about not showing up. We both felt misunderstood and wronged.