A Lesson In Panhandling And CommunicationPosted: January 2, 2013
I had a friend who pointed out that things happen to and around me that do not happen to other people. Had is a deceptive word. It isn’t as if she died, she just works somewhere else now.
When she’d bring the subject up, I’d deny it. We’d argue. Arguing my position was tough because she had a list of things that made her undeniably correct. Usually I’d just claim victory and leave before she got to the end of the list. Getting away before she completed her list wasn’t hard, the list was pretty long.
My friend is right. I am no longer denying it. I’ll admit it to her if I see her again.
Here is what happened to move me to the other side.
So There I Was, Minding My Own…
A panhandler approached me as I was about to cross the street. “Excuse me” she said. I turned to see who’d said it. I wished I hadn’t, but I couldn’t just ignore an “excuse me”. The woman who was there provided a quick tale of woe, then began her closing with “could you spare…”.
Even though the internet is miraculous, I can’t see you as you read this. But I know that you’re probably saying “that’s not anything special, it happens to me all the time”. No, it doesn’t.
Forty dollars. “Could you spare” was followed with “forty dollars”.
“Forty bucks” I said, “you want me to give you forty bucks?” I am a magnet for weirdness, but this was a shock to my system. I thought maybe I just misunderstood. I hadn’t. She was happy to confirm the amount.
“I live in a boarding house, I pay my rent every day. It’s forty dollars.”
“I don’t have forty to give you.”
“That’s OK, there is an ATM right in there.”
A Teachable Moment
There was some miscommunication between my panhandler and I. When I said “I don’t have forty to give you” what I meant to get across to her was that I did not intend to give her any cash. She received a different message.
You see, communication is such a dicey game. It seems like it is all about words, but that is only part of that game. Word order, tone, emphasis and so many other factors play into how effectively we communicate.
My mistake was a subtle one. I said “I don’t have forty to give you” when I meant “I don’t have forty to give you“. Having the cash at hand wasn’t the issue. The fact that I had no intention to issue that cash to her was.
Don’t forget to attend to the little things when you speak. Misplacing emphasis or poorly choosing your tone can cause your listener to hear a different message than you intended to communicate to them.
We Return To Our Story
I reconsidered my response and tried again.
“Ma’am, I’m not going to give you money. Good luck though.”
“Are you sure? There’s an ATM right there.”
“I’m sure. Thank you.” She moved on, leaving me to wonder about the encounter.
I wonder why such a specific and large amount. I wonder if anyone ever goes to the bank machine and makes a withdrawal for her.
I wonder why these things happen to me; but I admit that they do.