Walking to a meeting today, I heard a woman yelling at a double-parked delivery truck. I couldn’t help but notice the futility of her cries- the truck was empty. I let her know and smiled, hoping it would both convey my empathy and curtail her caterwauling.
She asked if I could help. The truck was blocking half the space in front and a car was on either side of her. Still, there was room for her to get into the space so I agreed. As I started giving instructions, she looked skeptical, but followed my directions. I was pleased with the speedy progress we were making, until she asked, “Is this going to get me out?”
There I was, flapping my arms and giving directions that would only get her back where she started! Fortunately, one question was enough to get us in sync. I apologized for misunderstanding, we had a good laugh, and she was on her way in no time.
We’ve heard the perils of making assumptions. And yet, it’s easy to look at problems on the surface and imagine a quick solution. Until the driver told me she was trying to get out, I assumed she was trying to park. Without her question, we wouldn’t have made progress. We would both would have become frustrated, and despite my good intentions, I couldn’t have been helpful.
This incident reminded me how easy it is to assume everyone is on the same page and how important it is to discuss goals, even when they seem obvious. Misunderstandings like this happen all the time, particularly when people from different work cultures or sectors work together. While it may take more time in the beginning, talking about where you’re headed will be the fastest way to get where you’re going!