DURING one of my regular stops at a petrol station recently, I was greeted by a rather cheerful attendant of foreign origin. He politely said: “Sir, this pump is for cash purchases only.”
As I didn’t carry much cash, I was rather disappointed but sought to reaffirm: “Oh, so I can’t pay with the credit card then?”
He nodded but quickly added: “Yes sir, cash only, but credit card is also accepted.”
I thought about what he said for a few seconds and smiled when I understood his message. I also forgave him for the confusion as he was probably new to the job and language might still be a problem.
On another occasion in a neighbourhood restaurant, a similar situation occurred. I overheard a group of diners at the next table placing their orders. They ordered fried rice, soup and noodles. One specifically requested for a certain type of noodles. “I want the fried mee, okay, not bihun. The last time I ordered that, you guys sent me the bihun. Please, fried mee, not bihun!” he emphasised.
The waiter, also a foreign worker, nodded confidently. On his way to the kitchen, he shouted: “One fried rice, one soup and one fried bihun please!”
You can guess what happened next when the customer received his order!
Both incidents may have been funny, but they also highlight how a seemingly straightforward situation can turn into a totally confusing one. In both cases, mastery of the language may have been an issue, resulting in miscommunication. But they could have also been caused by other modes of communication such as body language, tone of voice and other gestures.
CONFLICT AT HOME
Can you recall the last time you had a conflict with your loved ones? Chances are, there were plenty of communication, verbally or otherwise.
Imagine a scenario with your child after a hard day at work. There he is, happily playing with his toys in the living room. All you want is to sit down, have a quiet time and forget everything that had happened in the office. But there is no place to sit on, as toys are strewn all over the room including on the sofa.
So with hands on the hip, voice slightly raised and a deadly stare, you say: “What’s going on here! Look at all this mess. You know I tidied up this place yesterday, and now you have turned it upside down. I want it neat again, and I want it now!”
Your little boy who is so happy to see you, stops in his tracks. He has been waiting all day for you. But now his cheerful expression is gone and his eyes become all watery. He quietly puts his toys away, feeling a little frustrated that he cannot show you the biggest race track he ever built.
DO IT CAREFULLY
The scenario would have been a lot more positive if we had chosen to communicate carefully. Our yells and intimidating body language may be interpreted wrongly by the children and spouse. Our message of “I just want to rest after a hard day” may be interpreted as “I don’t care about whatever you are doing”.
Fights, arguments and conflicts start this way. The otherwise reasonable messages are misinterpreted simply because of harsh words, coupled with negative body language.
Let’s turn the whole thing around. Be aware that our words and actions are always being interpreted by the receiver. We have to make sure that our messages are delivered as they are, and not distorted by our emotions.
If we are not in the right frame of mind, we can postpone the communication to when we feel better. It is not worth the risk to hurt feelings. In fact, we may even need to spend more time and energy to repair the damage.
When we choose to be careful with our words and actions, we will be able to communicate positively. Our loved ones will respond positively as they can clearly understand what we want.
There will be no more missed opportunities and unnecessary conflict. Best of all, our “pump attendants” and “waiters” will always deliver what is expected of them in the most cheerful and accurate manner.