August 15, 2016

Melting Ice Cream and the Fundamentals of Communication

I often remind myself that my young children are just begging to grasp communication basics; sometimes what I say does not make perfect sense and could possibly be taken out of context. This happens with adult conversations too - even when speaking the same language. I hate to say it, but found myself needing to brush up on these same communication fundamentals recently.
The beauty of being an independent consultant is that I have the freedom to work when I want, where I want - The challenge though is sometimes one and the same. Mostly I complete projects from home, although I do on occasion work on-site for clients; in fact, for the past few weeks, I have been working on-site for a client.
Aside from finding someone to watch my children part-time, I also need someone willing to tote them back and forth to their respective schools. I found yet another challenge of working on-site upon returning to my normal “mommy-bus” schedule, though; because I was not doing drop offs, I missed signing up to bring an item for my daughter’s Valentine’s Day party and found myself stuck with bringing ice cream. 
I know that I could have found something much worse. However, you need to imagine this scenario: tracking though an obstacle course in the blazing desert heat while carrying a pint of ice cream across a tattered rope bridge that spans a harrowing ravine with crazed, hungry crocodiles at the bottom, all the while dodging rapid fire burning arrows that cause rather large chunks of your path to disintegrate (a.k.a. sugar-starved children and nasty winter roadways) - all without allowing the ice cream to melt. 
While this isn’t entirely my scenario, it is a bit difficult to get a frozen item to one school when I have to drop my son at his school first, then high-tail it over to my daughter’s preschool on the other side of town. Any ice cream would be out of the freezer for more than an hour, thus creating a messy creamy soup.
I decided instead to squeeze in a trip to the grocer after dropping my son and before taking my daughter to her school. I had noticed, though, that when signing up the previous day, no one else had volunteered to bring the other half gallon, so before stopping I thought to call the teacher to ask if she needed me to get the other half gallon as well. This is how our conversation went:

“I’m going to stop for the ice cream; do you need me to get the other half gallon as well?”
“No we have lots of leftovers from the morning class and one of the other children signed up to bring the other half gallon.”
Pausing to consider our conversation and possibly a little confused, “So you don’t need ice cream then?”
“No we are good.”
I thought that was great since getting my daughter to the other side of town in time for class is always a time challenge. When we arrived at school and stood with the other parents and children, the teacher popped her head out of the classroom and asked, “Does anyone have items they need to put in the freezer?” 
Of course, not having ice cream I didn’t respond, so she looked at me and asked “Where’s the ice cream?”
I must have looked blank, because she looked at me and verified that I had indeed signed up to bring ice cream. I explained that was the reason for my phone call, and, after our conversation, I understood that I didn’t need to bring any. Turns out she didn’t need me to get more ice cream, and I was thinking that she didn’t need me to get any ice cream.
What I forgot is one of the principals of communication - I should have remembered to ask the clarification question“Just so that I understand, do you want me to bring the half gallon I signed up for?” Which then would have likely been answered with “Yes please bring your half-gallon; we just don’t need an entire gallon of ice cream.” 
If this type of conversation can go awry within the adult world, what is it doing to my children?
So ask yourself this when speaking to your children or anyone else really: Does what I say make sense? Could what I say be taken out of context? What would be the ramifications if I am not clearly understood?
I lucked out this time, as the other mom actually brought both of the half-gallons of ice cream. Next time, though, if I am not clearly understood, I may find myself scrambling instead.

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