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The importance of saying what you mean

By |  March 11, 2020 0 Comments
Photo: Alan FitzGerald

Photo: Alan FitzGerald

On a recent transatlantic flight, between the boredom of yet another movie and waiting for the best time to climb over “Vegetable Lasagna” — my new seatmate — for the bathroom, I drifted back over my life in the United States. I suddenly realized that somehow, I’d skipped a decade — 2000 is actually 20 years ago — and that I’m actually 10 years older than I thought. I started thinking about what, if anything, I would change.

The good news is that I wouldn’t change much, but I dwelled on the importance of communication. I arrived in the States — with a thick Irish accent — at a time where the biggest worry was how PCs would handle the change from 1999 to 2000 without vaporizing humanity. I then had to adapt to a south Jersey/Philly accent and ended up in Amish country. While that sophisticated accent is one thing, adapting communication styles to those diverse areas has been a big part of my life.

A number of years ago, while waiting on standby for a transatlantic flight, my wife and I were bumped up to better seats, although a seat apart on different sides of the aisle. I noticed by the activity at the gate that someone hadn’t shown up for the flight. The ripple this created bumped others to business class, and my wife and I were gifted the emergency row. Now with priority boarding, we smugly slipped past the squabbling horde.

A few minutes later, Ms. Gate Agent came to us and said, “We have two seats for you together in the back — would you like to move to them?” Naturally, we’d rather stretch out for six hours and said no. Ms. Gate Agent asked the same question three more times — emphasizing together — each time receiving the same answer from my perplexed wife.

At this point, I noticed a bit of a kerfuffle at the front. The first-class guy had shown up late, and Mr. Gate Agent frantically was trying to reshuffle everyone to their original seats. My wife — not seeing this and therefore not knowing why Ms. Gate Agent was visibly frustrated — was taken aback when Ms. Gate Agent snapped and said, “Well, you’re flying standby and are in someone’s seat, so you have to move. I’m in charge of this plane, and you have to do as I say, and if you don’t, you’ll be escorted off and never fly again.”

I tried to calm the situation by saying we’d happily move, that her actions were unnecessary and all she needed to say was that she needed the seat, not offer us an option. My wife, embarrassed by now, was trying to work out what had just happened as we shuffled back through packed rows of curious stares.

The five and a half hours with my 6-foot, 4-inch body folded into the smallest seat ever and my carry-on squashed under my feet gave me plenty of time to reflect on the need for clear communication. All Ms. Gate Agent needed to say was that she needed the seat back, and that would have been the end of it. Instead, my wife, the nicest, quietest woman in the world, nearly ended up on a do-not-fly list because of someone who was unable to communicate, and who then doubled down on her ineffective communication.

We know communication is essential, but do we really pay attention? Do you take the time to listen to people? Is it time to reevaluate your communication skills? The world has changed since 2000, but has the process of communication changed? Don’t assume others know exactly what you are thinking. Think about what you are trying to convey, and attempt to understand if your message is being communicated in the manner you desire.

Don’t be Ms. Gate Agent.

This article is tagged with , and posted in Columns

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Golfdom's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at Golfdom, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.


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