‘You’re like my sister,’ Spike said, as the waiter walked away.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘You can be quite bitchy,’ he replied. ‘And you know, you should be careful about that at restaurants, because you never know what they might do in the kitchen with your food.’
Wait. I was bitchy?! I bit back my quick retort and quickly rewound the incident with the waiter. I’d placed an order for dessert and after some time, only a sundae arrived. The rest of the order seemed to have dissipated into thin air in the mad holiday rush of orders. I waved the waiter over to ask what happened to the desserts and he said he’d check. I don’t think I said anything disparaging… but yes, it could have been my tone of voice; that slightly impatient did-you-get-it-right condescending tone.
I think I might have over-compensated for my bitchiness later as I effusively thanked him for every little thing he did. I was trying to un-bitch myself!
‘Thanks so much!’ I grinned when he appeared at our table with the ice-cream, and again when he appeared with our doggy-bag, and again when he handed me my coffee and again, when I asked for the bill.
I was hoping for some redemption. And clean food.
It’s so easy for me to get caught up with getting things efficiently done that too often, I find myself forgetting that these people may be doing their best. In being straightforward with my questions (no time for polite inquiries)… I unwittingly transmit the message that their efforts are not good enough.
I dislike it when people do that to me. And here I was, doing it to others.
Earlier today, the husband was terribly unhappy with an email that he’d received.
‘What was it exactly that made you unhappy? The feedback? The amendments that need to be made?’ I asked.
‘No, it was the way the words were phrased. It made it seem as though all the work we did was flippantly disregarded simply because there were some mistakes in the final product,’ he answered. ‘I mean, it’s just a matter of communicating it with more understanding, or tact.’
A flurry of emails later, the matter was settled and oddly enough, all the messages were now punctuated with smileys.
‘How do you think I listen, in conversations?’ a friend asked me.
We were initially talking about what grabbed us first when we listened to a new song – the tune, the song’s structure or lyrics – and somehow, this led on to a discussion about how we actually listen to what’s being said when we are with friends.
‘Well, I think you hear the inflections in the voice first, then the tone, the body language, the expression in the person’s eyes and finally, the words they are saying,’ I replied.
‘Sometimes, I have to replay the conversations in my head and take note of the words exchanged,’ my friend explained. ‘Only then do I really get what they were trying to say…’
I wondered about that. I think we all do it actually.
How many times have words gotten lost in an exchange because we were affected by the emotive overtones in a statement, the facial expression of the speaker or the volume with which a person spoke? And in the case of emails… the missing smiley face?
Albert Mehrabian once did a study on such communications and concluded that in all face-to-face communications, words constitute only 7% of what’s being said (!), the tone of voice 38% and get this, body language and facial expressions a whopping 55%.
With people we like and trust, the words bear more weight and likewise, with people we don’t know or don’t trust, we read them more than we listen to them.
While I don’t think there’s a need to take this rule as a law, it’s a good reminder for me the next time I meet someone on the street, in a cafe or at work. They are walking people… living in a world entirely separate from mine.
How much effort does it take for me to breathe in deep, look at them as a person (and not a means to an end) and smile… because they deserve that? It will only take 2 seconds.
And I’ll get clean food…