Communication Breakdown

“It’s well under 23”, I said as I put the first of our checked bags on the scales at the very beautiful Orlando Airport. He looked up at me  – perhaps quizzically – as  he moved it to the centre of the scales.  The scales showed ‘47.0’. “That can’t be right”, I said.

“Sure is”, he replied, “when I picked it up, I knew it was well over 23”. I was astounded.

“But I only checked it an hour ago”, I retorted.

“Not a problem though”, he added, “It’s under the 50 pounds, and that’s all that matters for me”.  Ah, pounds!  I was using kilogrammes. We laughed about our different ‘languages’.

Just another of those communication breakdowns that happen every day, probably every hour. A simple misunderstanding due to the way we make assumptions, don’t listen or don’t explain ourselves.

But some misunderstandings are more complicated. Earlier in the holiday we had been staying at a relatively cheap, but very well equipped and maintained Best Western hotel. In the bathroom was the notice pictured above, which said “Take it home!  If you enjoyed your stay as much as we think you did, you shouldn’t have to leave those memories behind.  Many items in this room such as towels, pillows and sheets are for sale. Please contact the front desk at check-out for pricing. Thanks for staying with us!”

Before you read any further, think about what you are being told. What information is it seeking to give? What message do you take from it?

I had read it a couple of times when we first arrived. Later I went back to it. It was preoccupying me. I didn’t understand it. The towels were just white towels – nothing special. They didn’t have any emblems on them or fancy stitching. Why would people want to buy them as “memories” of their stay? I was stuck – I decided to involve someone else. “Peta, why would someone want to buy these towels as souvenirs?”.  She quickly replied, “I don’t think that’s what it means”.  I was intrigued.

She went on to explain that she had read it a couple of times herself and had decided that the actual message was not the message I was taking from the notice.  She thought that the message was to anybody who was thinking of stealing any of the items, telling them that they shouldn’t. Blimey! I read it again and could vaguely see her point of view.

But if that’s the case, why not just say, “Please do not take the towels”, etc. If that is the intended message – and I’m still not sure it is – I wonder how many readers understand it. Have the creators of the message spent so much time attempting to make the message ‘positive’, they have completely lost the focus of the actual message – and so nobody knows what is really meant.

How often do we verbally do this in our daily lives? Often I would suggest. And it is perhaps a more ‘underhand’ breakdown in communication than the baggage example. What does it do for relationships and rapport?

Paul

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