Have you ever tried to communicate something to someone and you think you are reeeeaaallllly going out of your way to be kind and sweet and sensitive and you choose your words ever so carefully. But, as you go along, you can tell that the person to whom you are speaking is hearing something completely different than what are saying. And you sense that the more you speak the more her feathers are getting ruffled until you are knee deep in feathers.
And does that make you feel cruddy? And maybe a little exasperated? Because the effect of your words on this person are the exact opposite of what you intend.
Or maybe it’s just me. I suspect it’s just me.
I signed Sean up to attend a class recently. When I got the schedule of activities, I discovered that the snacks they were planning to give the kids were over the top with sugar. Way over the top.
So later in the week, when the event coordinator called and asked me if I had any questions about the class, I took that opportunity to ask about the snacks. I told her that Sean has glycosuria, that his kidney’s don’t process sugar properly and that one of the side effects we’ve noticed is that if he gets more than just a little bit of sugar at any one time, he will throw up. And then I tried to make a little joke about how I didn’t want anyone to have to clean up puke. Apparently it was not that funny of a joke.
She got a little defensive about the snacks and said no one else had complained about the snacks and that furthermore, no one else had complained about the snacks and I was the only one who had complained about the snacks and therefore I understood her to mean that I was the only one who had complained about the snacks. Even though I didn’t think I was complaining, I was just asking about the snacks.
I tried to reassure her that I wasn’t fussing at her about the snacks, but I was just trying to figure out a way for Sean to be in the class, that he really wanted to be in the class, but the snacks were going to be a problem. I offered that perhaps it would be best to pull him out. The thought of Sean holding his little bag of Goldfish while the other kids were swilling grape soda and eating ice cream while he looked on kind of broke my heart a little bit.
And that’s when she said she had gone to a lot of trouble to get Sean in the class (heavy sigh) and then her voice went up an octave.
When she finally stopped to take a breath, I said, “I can tell you think I’m fussing at you and really that is not my intention, I’m just trying to find a solution… I appreciate your hard work… You are so thin/lovely/have great hair and can I buy you a car?…”
No, I didn’t really offer to buy her a car, but I was sucking up to her in a big way to salve the mighty wound I had inflicted upon her by asking about the snacks.
After the conversation was over and I hung up, I felt horrible. I had failed to communicate, to win her heart, to get her to understand my predicament, to get her on my team.
I talked to Antique Daddy, who has expertise in communications, and he pointed out that sometimes volunteer coordinators and customer service people get the brunt of all the public discontent, they are usually not the ones who make the decisions and they are powerless to make any changes. And that by Friday evening when she called, she had probably had enough. And you know what? I understood that. I feel that way sometimes too when someone asks me about snacks on Friday night. So be warned.
He is so wise, and right of course, but he could have thrown in a “poor you” for good measure, don’t you think?
I didn’t really feel like I owed her an apology, per se, but I wanted to clear the air and to take responsibility for my failure to communicate, so I sat down right away and emailed her (because obviously I had failed at oral communication) and effusively thanked her for everything, for the phone call, for volunteering, for the hard work and I reiterated that really and truly I wasn’t fussing at her and that I apologize if she felt that I was fussing at her, which I wasn’t. Not. Fussing.
I got an email back the next day accepting my apology.
And I have to tell you to tell you here, that for some reason, that felt kind of cruddy. I thought it would have been a nice gesture if she had thrown me a bone, waved off my apology with a “No biggie”. That’s what I would have done.
And that was that.
When I explained to Sean that while the other kids in class would be having cookies, ice cream, soda and M&Ms, he’d be eating Goldfish and drinking water, he said, “That’s okay Mom, I understand.”
Someday I hope to be as mature and reasonable as my four-year-old.