By Allen F. Weitzel
Ah, communication. Important? Yes. Needing improvement? Almost always!
Poor communication most commonly occurs when the speaker is not a clear, brisk, accurate speaker and the impatient listener begins to interrupt while waiting to hear the meat of the message. Another scenario happens when the speaker, even when given enough time to speak, omits some of the information during the discussion. It is difficult for most of us to train or retrain people to be good
speakers. The key solution falls upon the shoulders of the listener to learn to be patient and help the speaker get all of the information out. Listeners need to make sure they get the complete story of who, what, where, when and why, and sometimes, how.
Poor communication frequently happens between employee to employee or employee to guest. Guests can also have poor communication between each other, as shown below.
Several years ago at our park, our security staff responded to a lost child call. The mother told them that she was scheduled meet her ex-husband at the Pirate Ship ride at a specific hour to pick up her children from him after his week of custody of them. The security staff went to extreme effort trying to locate the father and the children, with no luck. Finally, our staff asked if the mother had called the ex-husband to ask for his exact location. The mother, in her panic, never thought to make the call. The mother reached the father by phone. He described precisely where he was standing, in front of the Pirate Ship, wearing a red hat. Both separate parties were in front of the Pirate Ship ride, but they could not see each other because the mother was at the Pirate Ship at our park and the father had the children with him at the Pirate Ship ride at another park across town. Whoops! Wrong park, wrong Pirate Ship! Now, that was poor communication with inaccurate assumptions by each parent! The parents, not being effective speakers and listeners, had wasted everyone’s valuable time.
Listeners must shoulder the burden of assuring that complete information is accurately transferred. All listeners in all situations should follow the advice of phone communication experts who advise that the listener wait for the caller to finish without interrupting, then clarify the information and let the caller end the conversation first. Never put words in the speaker’s mouth. You might be inserting the wrong words that could change the message. When a speaker is sharing information, the listener must concentrate on data gathering. If needed, let the speaker mumble, stumble and fumble their words in their own way while getting the data out of their head. After the listener hears the entire message, direct questions should be asked to clarify the message. Do not criticize the speaker’s talking style or message, at least while gathering key data. Later, if the opportunity arises, the listener can share ideas for how a speaker can improve their delivery, but, as always, never shoot the messenger.
Understanding Your Customer
In closing, I leave you with this example of a listener knowing when to finalize the information exchange. I was in a busy well-known chicken restaurant. I was second in line behind a fit-looking, younger woman. She was placing her order and it sounded like she was purchasing enough food for a small army. The employee behind the counter seemed well trained. He was practicing suggestive selling, recommending menu items, and she was ordering extra items from the menu. ‘Chicken? Extra crispy or original recipe?’ She said both, a bucket of each. ‘Any chicken livers?’ Yes. She also wanted biscuits, mashed potatoes and corn. ‘Any beans?’ Sure. ‘How about a side of Mac and Cheese?’ Oh, yes! Oh and she wanted some chicken wings, with extra sauce and two pot pies. She agreed to almost everything on the menu that this employee suggested. No lack of communication there. The employee was about to wrap up the sale, so he closed with that ever-famous phrase: ‘Do you want Fries with that?’ The woman stopped, stiffened up and said so loudly that everyone could hear, ‘Oh no! I don’t want anything that’s oily or greasy!’
I, and the customers who heard her, turned and looked at her like she was from another planet, and thought to ourselves, ‘Lady, this kind of food is a heart doctor’s nightmare!’ She did not notice the customers watching her. The counter employee maintained his professional demeanor and made sure he did not say anything to ruin this huge sale. He merely said, “Ma’m I hear that! No fries! Okay, your total is $157.20. Thanks very much!”
The message here is to know when to speak up and when to listen.