A recent schism in communications was deeply telling.
I was in a restaurant in Central America – where I would have several meals along with a group that ranged from eight to 14.
When no one came to greet us after we had been sitting for about ten minutes, I walked into the kitchen. The wait staff were standing around, one gazing at his cell phone, and sheepishly looked up at me knowing they probably needed to come face us since this was a restaurant and we were patrons.
The servers spoke an indigenous language, very little Spanish, no English. We spoke in gestures, pointing at a menu, bits of Spanish…and didn’t get very far.
So the group decided to get creative while ordering our food. Since the menu was in Spanish – in what we thought was a flash of insight, we took to writing each individual’s name, the dishes they wanted, and the cost reflected in the menu.
Our food came eventually, some as long as an hour after ordering, and most of it coincided with what was ordered.
But when it came time for each of us to pay, chaos reigned. It took awhile to understand why the staff couldn’t tabulate the cost and give us each a check. It seems some of us had shared our meals, some plates had been moved around to accommodate the sharing, and in so doing, the visual landscape had changed.
Turns out the orders had been taken based on visual and auditory cues, so the checks were going to reflect the plates and their remains – as they now sat on the table. The menu, our carefully written orders and other documentation … just so much extraneous noise.
Needless to say, it took quite some time for the staff to determine the cost of our meals. Most of us just left a reasonable amount, including tip, next to their place at the table.
Our plates were not moved for hours. Checking back later, they were still there and one staffer was still trying to ascertain whether what had been ordered and eaten, had been paid for.
Now, these are people operating hotels, restaurants, cell phones, and interacting with guests of various nationalities. Yet taking a meal order defied the gods.
Just think: what kind of filters are your audiences applying to your messages? Each culture and locale has its own interpretations, beliefs, and values. And they can certainly distort well-intended messaging.
Next time, don’t move the plates. It’s confusing.