You Lost Me

Watch What You Say and How You Say It

By Jennifer Cummings, Senior Strategist, The Fratelli Group

“You shorted me 25 cents.”

“We’ve been trying to reach you repeatedly.”

“Thanks for your patience.”

These are all messages that I have been on the receiving end of at some point over the past 30 days. Each annoyed me immediately, and so I sat down with a blank Word document to tease out the reasons why. I realized that all were a failure to communicate effectively with me — the audience.

When we talk about communications, especially advocacy communications, there is nothing more important than audience. The audience — like the customer — is always right. And in these instances, the audience was me.

“You shorted me 25 cents.” This was a message delivered by a tollbooth employee. While she had no way of knowing how my day was going, that I was on my way to a wedding without a moment to spare and that I had literally scrounged around frantically in my wallet and car for $4.00 worth of quarters because I hadn’t realized I was on a toll route, that was the situation.

So when I reached the booth and proudly handed over the quarters (a success because I had no clue I luckily had so many), I was dismayed when I was met with a less than friendly response. I hadn’t “shorted” her 25 cents. I had mistakenly dropped a quarter on the floor mat. If her response had been a simple “it’ll be 25 cents more,” I wouldn’t be writing this post right now. I would’ve felt more positive about the exchange, gladly given her that quarter and moved right along, but her words felt and tone sounded accusatory and like I was trying to skip town for $3.75.

“We’ve been trying to reach you repeatedly.” That’s what the receptionist at a doctor’s office told me when I went to check in for an appointment. Again, the tone and words uttered were accusatory and factually incorrect. I felt accused of being a deadbeat patient when the truth was, no one from the doctor’s office had called my phone number or left a message. Who knows what happened. Maybe it was a note left on the wrong patient file. Regardless, it put a bad taste in my mouth about the practice because it seemed that they a) like to scold their patients, b) don’t have their act together or c) mixed me up with someone else. No matter the reason, not good communication.

Finally, the third example, and my least favorite. You hear it all the time, whether you’re stuck in a dark Metro tunnel, waiting for a table at a restaurant or for your plane to arrive at your gate so you can finally take off. “Thanks for your patience.” No, please don’t thank me. If I had a choice, I would not be patient. My preference would be to have already been seated at the table or well on my way to my destination.

Patience is indeed a virtue, and I do my best to be virtuous and understanding, but I’d rather just know the truth — that there are five groups waiting to be seated ahead of me and that the plane is delayed because of bad weather elsewhere, but just tell me. Communicate. Don’t thank me for something I don’t want to be thanked for.

After all of this, I fear I sound a bit like a curmudgeon, but I am a core audience for these businesses, and I also spend my professional life trying to make careful decisions about word choice when relaying an idea, making a point or asking a question. None of us is perfect at this; we are human after all. These three interactions, however, reaffirmed the value of words and tone when messages are being delivered.

So I recommit to be more clear, more effective and aware of my tone in my own communications.

We all are communicators, and we owe it to ourselves and our audiences to remember their importance when we craft and deliver messages.

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