Monday, April 14, 2014

The knock at the door: a real life parable on the challenges of communication

I opened the door.
"Hello Mr Dish."
I assume salesperson, and in the middle of dinner quip back, with a smile:
"Not a great start, thats not my name..."
"Really?" comes the reply before a check of the clipboard and a second attempt. (Later my wife will gain a new surname too...)
I'm handed a flyer, and it turns out this is our long serving local Councillor.
"Do you vote?" (Only about a third of the neighbourhood do...)
Checks clipboard. 
"Oh, yes I see you do." (I confess I'm not really warming to her at this point...)
She reminds me for a second time that she's been representing us for a long time.
"Will I have your vote?"
"To be honest, it'll depend on policies..."
"I'm sure you've read my six monthly newsletter..." (I don't recall...)
"I'd love to see what you can do about the speeding on our road."
"Well, if you will live on a main road. .." begins a long and fairly condescending answer about traffic volume and how she's working on that by trying to bring in an evening cafe culture in town. She begins to walk off...
"I know there will be lots of traffic, but I asked about the speeding... We lost an elderly neighbour to a speeding motorist ..."

(For most of this conversation my two year old is stood by me... that I am a concerned parent is visible.)
"Oh, yes, I knew her well, she was a loyal voter of mine... "
"I'm concerned for my kids.. "
"I've been your Councillor for a long time, not even worth getting into that issue... "
She begins to walk off again..
"A few speed limit signs on lamp posts would help..."
I'm mostly bemused.

This conversation happened because she wanted my vote... and was a bit of a car crash.

We all have bad days. I could've been a touch less antagonistic in my opening reply... though only one of us entered the conversation with any preparation. I was just heading out to the shop.

This long serving public servant of our city and neighbourhood may yet get my vote.

As I chew over the experience I'm reminded that its easy to get communication wrong. I get it wrong.
# Knowledge creates opportunities. She had my name and knew that I vote but failed to wield that constructively. She also missed the detail of me being a parent. I was an open book waiting to be read. A meeting between a voter and a politician is a match made in heaven, but anything the politician does that is confrontational, dismissive or alienating makes the whole thing pointless. I can easily miss the mark too - I don't have to deny my cause but if I don't take you with me, we're not going anywhere.
# Posture makes a huge difference. She presumed that her place in the establishment and a bi-annual newsletter meant her unexpected knock on my door secures my buy-in to her cause. When the posture is "I'm important" then I'm not drawn to someone. When it's "How can I serve you?" everything changes.
# Listening is rule number 1. She was more interested in promoting her issues than listening to my questions and concerns for the neighbourhood. Even if I'm not sure you can fight my cause, if you care enough to listen you probably win me.

1 comment:

  1. As your paternal grandfather used to say; "The only thing you can be sure of when a politician is talking is that they have their mouth open". Too cynical?