Years ago, I worked at PetSmart, where I was cross-trained for several different roles. While I preferred to be on the sales floor selling pets to adorably excited families, I sometimes really enjoyed the rhythm and ease of cashiering.
Say hello. Scan, beep, bag. Scan, beep, bag. Collect payment. Send them on their merry way with a smile and a wave.
One day, a sullen-looking customer approached my line with several items: a dog toy, a rawhide, and two cans of food. Hardly an unusual purchase.
I greet the customer. No response.
I think I hear them mumble something, but I’m not sure. “Did you find everything today?” I ask.
Again, a slight mumble. I figure they said, “Yes.”
Scan, beep, bag. Scan, beep, bag. Suddenly, the customer begins singing. Their song starts soft but quickly gets louder and more obnoxious:
“No bag, no bag, NO bag, NO BAG!”
I stare at them in shock.
“Ma’am, did you just sing ’no bag?” I ask after I’ve picked my jaw up off the floor.
“Well, you didn’t listen when I said it, so I figured I’d sing it,” they responded.
Cue smug Karen smile.
Apparently, there was only mumble-whispering and singing for this customer, nothing in-between.
Unfortunately, some people simply can’t be bothered with basic communication, let alone pleasantries. As a cashier, I learned that plenty of people apparently lack communicative powers. They expect others to read minds, and they don’t stop to think about how their communication style might be getting in their own way.
If you often feel frustrated that other people aren’t doing what you want them to do, you need to realize two things. One, you can’t control other people. Two, your communication techniques might need some work.
Here’s what to think about:
You Know What They Say About Assuming
Most of us have been in relationships where the other person expected us to read their mind. (Yes, men do it too.) It’s challenging to express emotional or sexual feelings, especially in a somewhat puritanical society. I get it.
Still, that’s no excuse for acting like your significant other has some sort of magical insight into your mind that no one else has. Want to feel heard? Ask for it. Want better sex? Ask for it. Want to be married? Ask for it. (With style.) Sense a trend here?
Never assume that someone knows what you’re thinking, no matter how close you are. Most couples don’t finish each other’s sentences, and that’s okay.
Clarity is Next to Godliness
On behalf of every single person who works or has ever worked or ever will work retail: Do not ask for the “blue book.” So you saw it on “Oprah.” Well, that narrows it down.
Do the worker the courtesy of basic research. Come prepared with a description of what you want. You wouldn’t do a work presentation by the seat of your pants, right? (Right?) Show everyone that basic respect. Be specific in what you ask for, be specific in what you say.
Be Open to Feedback
A hallmark of emotional maturity is the ability to accept feedback in a productive way. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to accept sarcasm or abuse, and this doesn’t mean that troll comments or plain insults should be taken seriously. However, you should be open to hearing other’s ideas. This is a key part of communication.
I once had a conversation with a friend in which she shared with me that she found something I wrote offensive. I didn’t think the piece was offensive — I certainly hadn’t intended it that way — but I opened my ears and listened to what she had to say. Even though I disagreed, I thanked her for the feedback. She felt heard, and our friendship was preserved.
Communication is, as they say, a two-way street. We must be open to traffic, but just like when we’re driving, we need to signal our own behavior. Assuming that other people know what we’re thinking and feeling is silly. Asking other people to perform extra emotional labor for us is entitled. And refusing to hear other perspectives is dangerous.
Once you follow the best practices of communication, you’ll likely notice that more things seem to go “your way.” That’s because humans have evolved to help each other, and deep down, we want to communicate. Just as things are going “your way,” they’re also benefitting the other people communicating with you.
In short, don’t let your societal or psychological obstacles get in the way! Be open, specific, and respectful in your communication, and watch the world open up to you.
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