Service of Clumsy Communication

May 7th, 2015

Categories: Communications, Elephant in the Room, Errors in Judgment, Uncategorized

Strong people

The three people who made these errors in judgment didn’t mean to offend—I’m pretty sure. All these examples involve volunteers.

Fifth Choice

Please helpA friend whose career is skyrocketing is counseling a fledgling group in her field pro bono. Several times one of the principals of this company has called and asked her if she can do something for them on such and such a date and when she says, “Yes,” the person replies, “Good. I’ve asked five other people before you so I’ll get back if none of them accept.” She is secure in her talent but found the communication insulting and irritating enough to mention. We now laugh because the situation has happened a few times since we first spoke about it and after the last, she told her contact that she’s done helping them.

Last Choice

panel of womenThen I heard about an organization’s committee co-chair who was looking for panelists among winners of a grant. She approached my friend, a winner, the day before the event, to see if she could participate. My friend knew she was clearly a last choice and said “no.” From the start the co-chair should have asked all the winners to attend—there weren’t that many–see who could come and then select her panel and moderator. The more the merrier: Their mingling before and after the formal discussion would have benefited the other guests who were attending to learn more about the grant.

Choice Words

I often identify the elephant in the room which is unusual these days–has always been in fact–and many don’t know what to make of it. If I’m on a board or a committee, I feel it is my responsibility to suggest a solution when most don’t dare recognize the problem. I know when and how to be deferential and polite and to carefully word what I write or say whether I’m suggesting a different approach or pointing out an error.

mistake 2I was taken aback when a person, in front of a third person, asked me recently to first show her correspondence I was going to send about a mistake someone had made. She said she feared I’d be too harsh. [Common sense taught me eons ago to be gentle when I want something/or a correction. It works.] This was not a client—I don’t make a move without client approval on copy and for decades my clients have trusted me to write appropriately worded missives. I was distressed that this person didn’t trust my ability to distinguish between offline private chatter and communicating with others. I sent the note, copying only those affected by the error—not this person [who was only peripherally involved]. The recipient was extremely apologetic as she realized she’d made a mistake—which happens. She immediately fixed what she could. As for my relationship with the distrusting person, my mother used to advise, “Bury the bone but remember where you buried it.” I’ll give it a try once again.

What causes some to take down others unnecessarily? Is it thoughtlessness? A feeling of power? A case of foot in mouth disease? A misunderstanding of the dynamic in a volunteer relationship? Have you been the target of such insensitivity? Then do you forgive–how many times–or walk away?


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6 Responses to “Service of Clumsy Communication”

  1. Judy Trojan Said:

    Jeanne, I especially loved your mother’s advice…short and sweet and… hits the nail on the head. Happy Mother’s Day, and thanks!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Back at you!

    Clearly clumsy communication as I described is nothing new and the reasons for burying bones go back to Adam, Eve and the snake. The way we treat one another at times makes my head spin. A friend advised me earlier today not to dwell, take note of or mention such instances. I’ve tried to become more duck-like to let water fall off my back for decades to no avail. This doesn’t mean I can’t improve and continue to spray quantities of water repellant on myself.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    It’s often forgotten that lack of communication may be sending a message in its strongest form: “I/we don’t like/want you” “Go away” and etc. Developing a thick skin and learning how to cope with such events as they come along is a fine art, mastery of which should be considered a challenge. Look at it this way, and the slight, real or imagined, will morph in a better understanding of human nature, along with future success in dealing with thorny and delicate situations.

    Communication is a two way street, and if there’s apparent silence on one end, then it’s the other that must sound off.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Brilliant concept–using silence as a communications tool. I need to hone this skill. I wish I could accompany silence with an appropriately haughty look but I’m not good at arrogance. “Looks could kill” is an accurate description I’ve seen done but never tried myself because I would fail.

    As a result of my silence on the matter in my example the person had to ask me if I’d done anything and my answer was a tidy and satisfying, “It’s taken care of.”

  5. D. Fishbein Said:

    The fabric of human relationships is not only changing at an accelerant pace, but also varies greatly between different subsets of the culture. None-the-less, the general trend seems to me to be negative.

    That said, in each of the situations you describe, someone needlessly caused offence because of a lack of candor and courtesy. Had the offending party been open and said instead, “This is my problem. I have people lined up to help, but I can’t rely on them. Would you do me a big favor and be available if I need you?” or, “I feel insecure in situations like this and have been hurt before, maybe we could work on this together?” far less harm would have been done.

    I was lucky during my early years, I was trained and worked in a company which cared about it’s people and rewarded teamwork. We worked hard, supported each other, had fun and got a lot done. Times changed though, and by the 1990s, everyone was looking out for “me” first.

    Incidentally this post made me think of the recent National Football League “draft,” which is now a much watched prime time TV event. “America’s team,” the Dallas Cowboys put a steel hammer on their team conference table to remind each other that they were looking for players who were so tough that they enjoyed hitting each other like hammers. I remember the days when what was important about playing football was being a good sport.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    D. Fishbein,

    While for some the old days may have been a kinder, gentler time, I don’t think this was true for everyone. Certainly my mother’s advice about remembering where the bones are buried illustrates that there have always been those who don’t think before opening their mouths.

    However, if more people followed the elegant approach you suggest when asking for backup, working with others would consistently be more of a joy than not.

    That said, the example you gave of “America’s team,” and the hammer makes me shiver. It is time to ratchet down the volume of violence on and off the field. We hear of incidences in which a man who is rebuffed after making a pass at a woman on a subway platform shoots the woman in anger. Today NYC is burying a 25 year old police officer who was shot in the face by a perpetrator. Key players in Washington D.C. are at each others’ throats. I could spend the rest of the day listing similar examples with no difficulty. Enough.

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