Earlier in the day, I had dealt with some unexpected problems, and I was behind schedule with a project I was working on. So I was a bit distracted when she called, and I wanted to get through the conversation as quickly as possible.
When I responded to the questions Sharon was asking, there was an edge in my voice. I didn’t realize this, of course. In my own mind I was simply responding efficiently to her questions.
Later I received a phone call from the value-added reseller, Bill, who had sold the software to this customer. Bill said Sharon had called him and complained about me, saying that I had been abrupt and impatient.
I was stunned. One of my core values is treating others with respect and consideration. I had no idea that I’d come across this way until it was brought to my attention.
It wasn’t the words I’d used that offended her. It was the way I said them.
When I got this feedback, I immediately called Sharon and apologized.
This experience taught me a valuable lesson. It didn’t matter what my intention had been.
What counted was her perception of my attitude and behavior.
More than a decade later, I still monitor this aspect of my speech during conversations. When someone is talking to me, I try to set aside whatever thoughts and emotions I may be feeling at the moment so I can tune in to the person and respond appropriately.
Clear communication is a challenge in the best of circumstances. You’ve got a lot on your plate; and when you’re busy, you may not want to worry about how you come across.
But if you care about your relationship with the person you’re interacting with – whether it’s a customer, a co-worker, your spouse or one of your children – you must consider the potential impact that your tone can have on that individual.
You have to be self-aware and self-monitoring. Because it’s very possible that others won’t tell you directly how you’ve come across. You can do lasting damage and not even realize it.
Let this wisdom from Maya Angelou be your guide.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou, American author (1928- )