“I’d like a black coffee and a muffin to go, please.”
“Would you like milk or cream with your coffee?”
“Neither – black coffee please.”
The server brings the coffee and then asks,
“Is the muffin for here or to go?”
That little scenario really bugs me and it seems to play out more and more. When we’re buying a coffee or a sandwich, it may be only a minor annoyance but I think it’s symbolic of a problem that shows up when we deal with larger issues. Simply stated it is this;
Communication begins with listening.
Apparently I’m not effectively communicating with the coffee shop server because he or she does not listen to what I need or want. The server is only hearing key words – coffee, muffin – and building a plan of action around them.
I’ve been in corporate communications for some time and I was in journalism for an even longer time. So, when I start to hear a client explain a communications issue, problem or concern I can quickly relate it to a similar situation that I may have worked on in the past. I’ve found, though, that it’s important to stay focused on every thing the client is saying rather than the “keywords” that remind me of previous experiences. I need to keep an open mind in case there is some need the client has that he isn’t expressing.
In my coffee example, I quite often end up with a cup that has about two inches of space left for the addition of the milk that I haven’t requested. A server who has really listened to me and anticipated my needs will fill the cup to the brim.
So when you look at your communications plan, are you truly listening to what your audience is saying or are you only responding to the key words?