It has been pointed out that 75% of problems in any organization are people related. If you’ve fixed a machine and set it right, it normally works fine until the next maintenance schedule. With people it’s a whole new ball game. You can set them right one moment, but before you could turn around, the ‘settings’ have changed. It may be because of something you just said, (or the chap thought he heard you say it) or someone else he couldn’t get along with came along and pushed up his stress levels. There must have been countless occasions when problems didn’t get solved, or jobs couldn’t get completed in time due to people misunderstanding one another and they called it ‘Communication Breakdown’. These are the sort of problems that spawned big businesses in Human Relations. We get Consultants all over the place, recommending training programs, seminars, workshops, etc...
We all came equipped with the same set of tools for communications (at least, most of us have the whole set). We get a pair of eyes to see with, ears to listen, nose, sense of touch, taste and only ONE MOUTH to speak. It is unfortunate that some, even though they can use this feature properly, choose only to make unintelligible or even annoying noises with it. But the BRAIN is the major part of the whole setup. If it is programmed well from the beginning then it should run fine till expiry date. If not, it will create more business for the ‘head shrinkers’ as well as a whole host of other related enterprises.
There have been many good and hard lessons that taught me about communicating effectively with people in the course of my growing up years.
There was once when a colleague fell down from a height of about 15 feet. He injured his back and couldn’t get up. So we gently shifted him onto an unused door, strapped him down and carried him into a van and headed straight to a hospital. When we got there, I went to the reception to enquire about how to proceed so he could get some medical attention. I told the receptionist that I needed a stretcher. She and a few other attendants nearby looked at me with question marks on their faces. But I was surprised my next statement could trigger so much reaction. I said I had someone outside with a Spinal Injury. The receptionist took up her phone and called the emergency room. One attendant went off in the direction of the ER while another went out and guided our driver to the ER entrance. I then realized I had used the magic words.
Now, this communication equipment of people can be unpredictable and sometimes impenetrable if the message you try to get through is not sent with the proper procedures. Which means, even under emergency circumstances, telling some people a thing or two can be tricky if you don’t do it right.
I remember I used to help out at my eldest brother’s sundry shop around the time before Chinese New Year. Those were the times when the crowds worked up a buying frenzy before the up-coming festival. Those days you could still buy fire-crackers and fire-works and I was on the lookout at the counter where these items were displayed. No telling that some kids could just pocket some of these small items and walk away without paying.
One pakcik (with a Chinese wife and spoke fluent Hokkien) who lived next door was loitering by the counter with a lighted cigarette between his fingers. My niece, who was about 10 then, yelled out to alert me. Without thinking, fearing that a spark from the cigarette might start some real fireworks, I started shouting unceremoniously at the pakcik to get away. To my horror, he not only refused to move away, he started waving his lighted cigarette very close to the fire-crackers in defiance of my shouted warnings. He argued that he was not the least concerned - and I should be less concerned than he - as he lived just next door - and certainly nothing was going to happen -and that I shouldn’t be worried, and he’s the one who should be worried and he’s not…. or something to that effect. To say I had a hard time trying to follow that was an understatement. I waved my hands and opened my mouth again, but nothing came out of it. The guy was just so close to creating a major disaster. The sundry shop was stocked to the brim with all kinds of goods and chock-full of people. Man, was he stubborn!
I walked away feeling frustrated and angry and I guessed he felt just about the same way I did. He too left the scene afterwards, but rather reluctantly. Years later, I still remembered the incident and wondered if there was a better way to convince people to follow your wishes without the “fireworks” and making them and yourself angry and frustrated and yet unable to get them to do what you want.
One day, while browsing in a bookstore, I picked up a paperback by Dale Carnegie entitled, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. I bought it, took it home, read it from cover to cover, and underscored the important points, and referred to it often. Eventually, I found that I could get people to see things my way without having to raise my voice, argue with them or browbeat them. This I would like to illustrate in the following case which happened quite recently:
I went to a local tire shop and installed four brand new tires on my car. 3 months later the front-right tire started to bounce whenever I went above 110kph. Not totally convinced it was the tire that caused the bouncing, I crossed-switched with one from rear-left. The car went into tail wagging instead! I took the tire back to the shop and told the technician who attended to my car the cause of my complaint. He explained that the cause of the vibrations was because I had applied emergency brakes, causing the tire to be dragged against the road surface resulting in a bulge along the center of the threads. I told him that I hadn’t used emergency brakes at all. I asked him if that really happened, then how did it happen to only one tire and not all four of them? The foreman joined in the discussion and said probably this tire was the one that stopped first before all the others. I wanted to tell him that if it really happened that way, I wouldn’t be standing there talking to him. The car would probably go into a spin and become a total wreck! I decided not to argue. I thought if I won that argument, I’d lose the case. These guys will do their best to save “face” and I would end up the loser.
I changed tactic and spoke only to the foreman. I appealed to his sense of business and fair-play. I said that I have been his regular customer for many years and I had bought all my tires and batteries from him. Wouldn’t he at least try his best to make a claim from the manufacturer on my behalf? The foreman then quietly took the tire and examined it more carefully, this time. He promised he would try his best, but it would take about 1 - 2 months. I said it didn’t matter how long it took. And just to let him know that I meant business, I told him if he was not successful in getting a replacement from the manufacturer, I would like to have the tire back. I could at least take the case up to the Consumers’ Association.
One of my relatives said I have been ‘had’. I won’t be getting my money back. Those guys are not going to give me a refund at all. That ‘emergency brake’ excuse was just too shallow. They’ll probably forget about it and so will I. Well, I wasn’t about to let it go at that. My patience paid off.
I followed up on the case with an occasional phone call. Two months later I dropped by at his workshop. He said he was to have a meeting with the supplier’s marketing manager that very day and I should come by later in the afternoon. I did, and I got my money back. I guess he didn’t want to lose this customer. He’d lose more customers if I had taken the case to the CAP and blew up the issue. He probably didn’t want to face that possibility.
The moral: No matter how right you are, don’t force the truth down someone’s throat. “A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”. And, according to Dale Carnegie, the only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.