March 29, 2006
"What we have here is a failure to communicate." This is our modern mantra of personal and professional dissatisfaction.
The proverbial boyfriend who didn't call has expanded to include bureaucracies ranging from airlines to phone companies to doctors who have taken the Hippocratic Oath to police who've sworn to serve and protect. No one it seems wants to "have a talk." Instead of the boyfriend saying, "Hon, work has me totally stressed with this looming deadline, and I'm suffering the aftermath of some bad Mexican food so I'll call you next week," he retreats with little or no communication and his girlfriend assumes he has bumped into his ex at a bar and now that she's lost the 20 pounds and gotten a new job at Maxim magazine, he's decided to run away with her and her thinner thighs. By the time he emerges from the silent man cave and wants to give his girlfriend some lovin', she's hung his toothbrush from her bumper.
Being ignored, unfortunately, plagues us in many social interactions. We've all been through frustrating experiences but how the person at the other end handles the problem makes all the difference. I've seen near riots on planes with unexplained lengthy delays. I've also heard captains come on every few minutes to let the passengers know exactly what's happening and how long it is expected to take to fix the problem then once underway say, "Thanks for your patience — free drinks for everyone."
If you've ever had a loved one in the hospital you know that to most doctors, the patient is just a sum of malfunctioning body parts, and the concerned family is mostly in the way. You have a better chance of getting blood from a stone than getting a doctor to talk to you for more than two minutes, especially if he's a surgeon. I've literally slammed a hospital room door and flung my body in the way to get a doctor to answer a dying man's few basic questions. Clearly they've forgotten part of their oath, "I will remember that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug."
It's the same problem with the police. They really don't want to deal with the victim; they want to deal with the crime. I'm going on week three of failure to get any closer to recovering my stolen belongings in their possession, and after I discovered I can't turn my head to the right, realized I have taken this giant pain in the neck literally. I now have a greater understanding for business people who say a key to their success is to return every phone call by the end of the day even if it is to say that they don't have any information yet but are still working on it.
If you're too important, too busy, or too incompetent to talk to the people in your care, then hire someone to do it for you. Find your own Cyrano — someone whose job it is to clearly communicate what is going on whether it is to your girlfriend, your customer, your patient, or your crime victim. It is amazing how people are placated, no matter how angry or hurt, when someone takes the time to talk to them and fully explain the situation. Those few precious minutes of connection can prevent an emotional explosion.
No news is not good news; it's simply the fire that lights the fuse of frustration. Maybe if the failure to communicate resulted, like in Cool Hand Luke, in the eating of 50 eggs, we might all become very chatty.
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