I went to the UPS office to ship a small package before 3:00 p.m. which was the last pick up of the day. One woman was being waited on and there were two other people in front of me. However, the counter clerk appeared efficient, so I assumed the line would move quickly.
Assumptions can be dangerous.
The woman being waited on said she didn’t want to send her package through UPS. She just wanted to know what it would cost so she could compare it to other services. The employee was trying to determine a price but needed to enter information into the computer to be accurate. She didn’t have the information he needed and became irritated at him. Still trying to help her, he Facetimed with his supervisor. The supervisor couldn’t fix it, so he called a technician who promised to be at the store within ten minutes.
At this point, the woman chastised the employee, said she didn’t understand why he couldn’t understand what she was saying and stormed out of the store.
Next customer. This man gave the UPS clerk a package sealed in a United States Postal Service (USPS) envelope. The clerk explained that it couldn’t be sent in a USPS envelope from a UPS office as they were two different organizations. Clearly irritated, he began to give the worker a hard time. Once again, calm, polite and patient, the UPS man tried to find a solution and asked the customer if he had ever sent anything from UPS before. This way, he explained, he could look the account up in the computer and see what he could do. The customer responded, “let’s just pretend I have.” More explaining from the clerk. More defiance from the customer.
Enter the UPS delivery man. He came to collect packages for his final pick up of the day. The woman in front of me interrupted the man in front of her to ask the clerk if she could get her package onto the truck. I said I had also come early to make sure my package went out today.
The defiant customer turned toward me and exclaimed “are you blaming me for the delay?” Not wanting to end up as a post on social media that might go viral, I calmly said I wasn’t blaming anyone and just wanted to get my package out. The insolent customer muttered something to the clerk and stormed out of the store. The clerk thanked her for coming.
Two down. One to go.
The woman in front of me was returning a pair of shoes. Easy. I’d be waited on in no time. So, I thought. She originally purchased the shoes in a size 7 she told the clerk. Those were too small she continued, so she ordered them in an 8. They were shipped to her boyfriend’s house in another state, but her boyfriend broke up with her. She thought he loved her, but it turned out he has mental problems. He’s a mental health counselor, but in her opinion, he is the one who needs counseling. Anyway, she continued explaining to the UPS person behind the counter, she’s returning the size 8 because she thinks they are too big, but she’s not sure. They fit correctly at the toe, but her heels kept popping out. She wants to make sure that the return package shows her address and not the ex-boyfriend’s address.
She also wrote a note explaining the situation that she’s included in the package. Would he like to hear it? Well, she’ll read it to him to see what he thinks. When she was done, she asked him if he thought it sounded okay. He nodded.
At this point, I wasn’t sure whether I was really awake, or I was having a bad dream.
The delivery driver returns. The shoe woman leaves. My turn. The clerk asks me if I’ve ever shipped from UPS before. I reply, “let’s pretend I have.” Not understanding my attempt at humor, I provided the information he needed, and he quickly completed the transaction.
More than one hour later, I finally leave the store.
Talking does not equal communication. Yet, many of us provide too many details, tend to over-explain, send long wordy emails and deliver hour long presentations that could have been presented in fifteen minutes. The results, especially at work, could be significant.
If you’re not fully attentive, you may miss an email with important information. If you’re too busy talking and not listening, you may botch an important deal. If you’re too long winded, you could blow a job interview because you’re rambling, instead of making key points. Besides, according to author Joseph McCormack, our brains can’t handle it.
McCormack says the human brain has the capacity to absorb 750 words per minute, but the average person can only speak 150 words per minute. That means an extra 600 words are floating around in there which gives us more time to tune out and get bored. So, if we’re chastising a worker, babbling to a clerk or taking too long to get to the point, chances are that person isn’t really hearing us.
What’s the fix?
In our programs, we challenge people to present information in different time increments. For example, if their presentation is thirty minutes, we ask them to deliver it in thirty, twenty and even ten minutes. The results are typically astounding. Speakers start honing in on what’s important, eliminate unnecessary details and command attention for longer periods of time.
Hit the Headline
Since attention spans start dwindling after ten seconds, it’s important to grab attention as soon as you speak. Like a great headline that draws you in, your first few words should do the same. Make your most important point as soon as you start talking.
There are many reasons people ramble including nerves, trying to impress and being unsure of how to draw others out. In business however, we observe the lack of preparation techniques. That’s not to say people don’t prepare. They do. But, instead of trying to cram ten pounds of information into a two-pound bag, learning how to effectively use message models will help even the most seasoned presenters condense information.
Back to the UPS office. Perhaps the real communication lesson learned is from the UPS clerk. Attentive, calm, resourceful and patient. He was also outwardly non-judgmental, which is difficult when people appear hostile. He showed us that it’s important to take all kinds of communication seriously, but not personally. He barely talked. He just listened, which signals he understood their frustration even if he couldn’t fix the problem to their satisfaction.