Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Let's Be Clear

I called the post office today. The woman told me that our mail had been stopped because our walk wasn't shoveled on the day after the blizzard - which is true. Our walk hadn't  been shoveled because we weren't home. Apparently there is no mandate or law requiring homeowners to shovel their walks, and postmen and postwomen have been falling and getting injured delivering mail through un-shoveled walks. Makes sense. So, they commonly simply stop delivering until someone calls to say "all clear!" and then all your back-mail can be picked up at the post office and service will resume.

It's a funny system. I imagine I could have gotten quite angry about it. And the woman seemed to anticipate my getting pretty pissed off. She started getting all defensive as the conversation proceeded until I said two things:

"Of course I don't want anyone to get hurt!"


"I'm new, so I just don't understand how it works. Can you explain it to me?"

Then she was sweet as pie and went through the whole thing with me patiently. Our mail service will resume today.

The whole thing just made me think about how often we assume people know our motivations. And how often we assume we're getting that same question again, without necessarily thinking that the person asking might not be calling to complain. We just load every interaction with a lot of assumptions that lead to potentially escalating anger or annoyance, basically because we inadvertently tread on a bruise or pet peeve. Because, at least in modern times, you get 30 seconds to explain where you're coming from, you often don't have time to mitigate these assumptions - or even the insight to think through what they might be. How was I to know that there was a mail stopping policy, and that it might result in some pretty heated phone calls to the post office?

I imagine they get a lot of "through sleet and hail.. " comments too. I bet that motto pisses them off.

So, my new year's resolution is to try to be more clear and straightforward, and not assume the motivations of others. I wont even pretend to say "I am very transparent." I hate that phrase. No one is that transparent. One of the last people to tell me he was that transparent was also plotting behind my back.  What I will try to do is put myself in someone else's position.. rapidly.. in a conversation, and try to understand their motivations. And, I will try to be explicit about my own, when it could add to the conversation. That's not transparency. That's empathy.

1 comment:

PD said...

This is such a great observation! I've noticed this as well but could never make sense of it.

I assume that someone will be angry when I have to tell them bad news. So I deliver it very self-effacingly and it creates a situation where the problem can't really be addressed because I'm so busy cowering in fear that the person is going to bite my head off. Kind of like what you described.

Or other people assume I have a certain intent when asking a question when I don't. It's like asking any questions are assumed to be loaded questions. You almost have to state your intent up-front and then ask the questions.