My eye was bothering me so I went to the eye doctor. My regular doctor was not available so I was given an appointment with someone else.
“Hello” she said with a very tight smile stretched from one side of her mouth to the other that was not reflected in her eyes or facial muscles. “I’m Dr. Brown. What’s the emergency?”
“I hope it’s not an emergency,” I replied.
Well, she shot back, tapping her chart with her pen, “They put you in as an emergency and I’m quite busy so what’s the problem?”
I felt a little pressure that was not just in my eye. She was obviously important and I was taking up her valuable time.
“My guess is I have a floater or maybe a cataract,” I explained. “But you’re the doctor so I’ll let you tell me.”
After a few questions and eye examination to determine my vision wasn’t impaired, she put some drops in my eyes to dilate them and then called me back for a more-thorough exam.
“Yep,” she said peering through a lens now stuck to my eye, “I see him. He’s a floater all right.”
“Really?” I asked. “What does he look like?” No answer. So I took a different approach hoping to take advantage of her expertise, “What exactly is a floater?”
“It’s a posterior vitreous detachment.”
And “What’s that?” I inquired.
“It’s when the vitreous membrane separates from the retina,” she explained.
This was like pulling teeth only I wasn’t in the dentist’s chair.
“So what is the vitreous membrane,” I wanted to know? She explained that it’s kind of like a gel in the middle of your eye that leaks fluid.
“That sounds serious” I said.
“Listen,” she quipped, “You’re my fifth floater today. To me, it’s like bread and butter. It’s not a big deal.”
“But it is to me,” I answered. “I’ve never had a floater and don’t understand what it is. Can it get worse or will it go away?” I wanted to know.
“It won’t go away,” she said, “but you will get used to it.”
How will I get used to a little black spot floating in and out of my eye I wanted to understand.
“Look” she said smiling again without really smiling. “It’s like my underwear.”
What? I wasn’t sure I heard correctly when she continued.
“This morning when I put on my underwear, I could feel it, but after wearing it for a while, I no longer knew it was there.”
OK. I wasn’t fond enough of this woman to start picturing her in her underwear. And while I frequently urge speakers to use analogies to help listeners understand complicated information, I would not suggest that they speak about their undergarments.
She said I didn’t have to worry about it unless I suddenly started seeing flashes of light. Concerned that I was traveling the next day, I asked what I should do if I have a problem.
Clearly exasperated at having to explain this bread and butter concept to the fifth person that day she asked me where I was going.
“To Massachusetts,” I said.
“They have excellent eye care in Massachusetts,” she informed me. “If you see any flashes or have pain, you can go to a hospital there.” How reassuring.
Then I saw the parallel in her message or lack of it to any of us who have to communicate. It doesn’t matter if you’ve given the same talk a thousand times. It’s likely the first time your audience or listener has heard the information and you should deliver it with the same gusto and enthusiasm you did the first time.
Secondly, it’s your responsibility as a professional to speak to customers, clients and any audience as if you genuinely care about their concerns and are truly interested in trying to solve their problems.
Finally, get over yourself. We know you’re important but so are we. We know you’re smart, but so are we.
Your job as a professional is to help others. Your job as a communicator is to facilitate understanding. They go hand in hand. And like the doctor’s underwear, if you’re genuine, you don’t even have to think about it. It just happens naturally as it should.