English is a rich language. Having an extensive vocabulary allows us to communicate our thoughts effectively and makes our conversation more interesting to the listener.
But vocabulary is only one part of of communication. The other is the way we use those words.
Consider the following sentence:
I – Never – Said – You – Stole – Money.
What does this sentence mean?
Actually, it has six different meanings depending on which word in the sentence is stressed.
1. I never said you stole money. (Joe made the accusation).
2. I never said you stole money. (Emphatic denial).
3. I never said you stole money. (I did write a memo to the boss).
4.I never said you stole money. (I was talking about Fred).
5.I never said you stole money. (You just borrowed some from petty cash).
6.I never said you stole money. (You did take a ream of copy paper home).
Consider the following scenario:
You go to a restaurant expecting to enjoy a wonderful steak dinner. The server provides you with a menu and after considering the choices you make your selection. You order your steak medium-rare and select your side dishes as you look forward to eating your appetizer.
After a short while your server returns with your entree. The steak arrives well-done – not a hint of pink to be found anywhere. (Of course, unless the server placed the order incorrectly, she had nothing to do with its being overcooked).
You motion to your server and loudly say, “Are you an idiot? Didn’t you hear me tell you I wanted this steak medium-rare? Does this look like medium-rare to you? Take it back and bring me what I ordered.”
You have certainly let her know that the meal was not prepared as you requested. In the process you have demeaned the server, (a number of other diners have looked over at the commotion you created with your boisterous display). Finally, you have made yourself look petty and unpleasant – if not downright vicious. While you’ll get your order cooked as you like, you will have made no friends among either your fellow diners or the restaurant’s staff.
Here is an alternate way to handle this situation:
You ask that the server come back to your table. As she is standing there you say, “Excuse me, I know you’re busy and I’m sorry to bother you. Apparently the kitchen mis-heard you when you placed my order. You ordered this medium-rare – but they overcooked it and its well-done. Would you mind taking it back and asking them to cook another one?”
In the second scenario, you have dealt with the situation in a polite and mature manner. You are more likely to have your replacement order expedited. You have taken a conciliatory posture so that you have neither insulted the server nor disturbed your fellow diners. Finally, you have demonstrated that you realize people make mistakes and are a big enough person to be understanding of our human frailty.
The words we use and the manner in which we employ them matter. So the next time you have a complaint, think about what you’re trying to accomplish. Your goal is to get the situation corrected. The best way to do that is by conversing with the person who has the ability to resolve your problem in a courteous and non-confrontational way.
Dad summed it up for me years ago when he said, “You attract a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
And that’s still true today.