Not Communicating Clearly, When You Think That You Are

talking headsMy daughter’s great Aunt recently died and left her an heirloom Rolex which she decided to have it retrofitted with a bracelet replacing the strap.  While home visiting, she took it to a local east coast jeweler, who custom designs their own jewelry, assuming that they would be well-equipped to create what she had in her head, to her satisfaction.  After dropping the watch off in person she promptly flew back to her home 3,000 miles away, relying on e-mail for the necessary approvals.  Perhaps you can guess what happened next.

After giving two signoffs during the creation progress, the watch with the new look was ready in two months, and shipped out to her as completed.  Well, of course, she was furious, hated the work, and couldn’t understand how they could get it so wrong?  So where exactly was the miscommunication over the two-month period, and how could this situation have been avoided, or rather how could it have ended more happily?

First, you should know yourself quite well and therefore know what you’re like, especially when the stakes are high (this particular watch meant a lot to her).  She should have known that she would be extremely particular especially about this piece of work (or maybe she knows that she’s extremely particular about everything) and should have stressed that with the jeweler, or at least mentioned the fact.  If you have a lot of skin in the game or just have extremely high standards, it’s only fair to let the other side know, so there are no surprises.  Instead we often don’t give fair warning and the other side is left wondering where the resulting fury is coming from.  Poor communication error number one.

Second, what’s the real issue at stake?  Is it getting your money’s worth from the high price paid?  Is it getting your way on the creation based on a design that is only in your head?  Is it about honoring a dear deceased relative properly?  Or is it something else entirely?  Once the real issue is determined, then steps can be taken towards avoiding or at least softening a potential conflict.

In the case of my daughter, the money was not the issue, and she feels no guilt about the relationship with her late Aunt – the issue is really about getting the design she wanted.  If she had realized that when she first went into the store, that this was the critical point, she would have perhaps made a strong effort to ensure understanding and clarity around her unique vision of what she wanted.  Lacking that full understanding the end product was far different in her mind than what she thought she had expressed that she wanted.  Poor communication error number two.

There is an onus, certainly on the business person’s side, to understand the customer’s wishes – especially with custom work that the customer designs.  When the resulting product is far off the mark, the standards have clearly not been set, labor and design time are both wasted, which is just bad business.   Communication is a two-way street; if the customer does not clearly express what she wants and the service provider assumes without really knowing, a very dangerous stage is set for trouble.  Poor communication error number three.

Lastly, not having adequate checkpoints in place throughout the process is also poor business.  When someone is knowingly 3000 miles away with their approval, does e-mail pictures and text message descriptions really do a decent job?  The communication channel must be appropriate for the situation.  Any business that is in the business of design, fit, and personal taste must know that using electronic communication solely is not going to be adequate.  They should have discussed additional alternatives prior to taking the job, which they did not do.  Poor communication error number four.

At this point the business is redoing the entire piece, which is costing them money and lost labor and time, with no guarantee or even a feeling of certainty that she will like the resulting second attempt.  It is a foolhardy lesson to be learned, which is uncertain that they will learn it as the miscommunications continue.  I am watching the whole thing from afar and shaking my head in dismay.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  While healthy communication is two-sided, you can only control your one side and hope that the other side is aware, without fully knowing if this is true, especially when the other side is a stranger.  So if you want a satisfactory outcome it would be wise to think in advance of what you want and how you’re going to get it.  When you mentally break down the transaction into the process that it will take to get from A (nothing) to B (a lovely bracelet watch) and the things to consider all along the way, you have a much better chance of clearly communicating your wishes.

QUESTION:  What experience have you had when you thought you had communicated your thoughts clearly but then realized that you hadn’t?  Was it a delivery issue, in that you weren’t clear in how you asked – or was it an assumption issue, where you assumed they had knowledge that they didn’t have?

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