Living in a foreign country gives you a different perspective. On everything – life, cultural meaning, reference, communication. For example: This morning I went to the shop to buy a bicycle padlock. Dead simple. But the padlock I wanted (a nice, safe, middle of the range one) was itself padlocked to the wall. Must be in high demand. So I set off to find a shop employee to unlock it. The conversation goes something like this (bearing in mind I don’t speak the language perfectly):
“Hello. I want to buy a bicycle padlock but it is locked. Can you come unlock it please?”
“Let’s go see.”
We walk in silence to the padlocks. Once there I point it out. In my mind, the lock stopping me from taking the padlock is obvious.
“I want this one,” I say.
“Yes, that’s ok,” she says and smiles at me. She walks away.
I assume she’s off to find the keys. Twenty minutes later I find her in another isle packing stock.
“I’m taking another one,” I say. “This cheap one that wasn’t locked. I’m taking it so don’t worry about the keys.”
She looks at me as if I’m messing with her. Then says. “That’s ok.”
I have no idea what happened there. I thought we were two people swopping information about a common link. But check the assumptions:
1. When I see her, I assume she can help me.
2. She assumes I’m only talking about the bicycle lock.
3. When she leaves, I assume she’s going to get the keys to unlock the padlock so that I can take the lock I want.
4. When she leaves, she assumes I’ve decided on a lock and was just running it by her.
5. She assumes I will be making my way to the pay-point, leaving her free to carry on with her job.
6. After the whole event, I assume she’s deaf, daft or both.
6. She probably assumes I’m disturbed, irritating or both.
Non-communication like this happens daily. At shops, in businesses, at home, in traffic. And most of it is based on assumptions.
I assume the guy who cuts me off in traffic is a rude, uncaring human being. So I have the right, no, moral obligation to put him straight. I assume my neighbour is trying to make a statement when he cuts back our shared shrubbery and lets just a few too many branches fall in my yard. I assume I assume…
So instead of assuming, what about asking one only question? What about establishing someone else’s position, needs and expectations before pushing your own? What about relaxing just a bit and smile while the situation unfolds?
Living in the new millennium means being quick on the gun. Gotta be first, gotta catch that wave, gotto go go go go, gotta sell sell sell. Gotta make that target regardless. What about asking your clients (or users, or partner, or children, or neighbour) what they want? What position are they in? What they expect from you (your product etc)? They might tell you something you never assumed before.