Miscommunication vs. Mistakes

          Miscommunication causes more problems than malice, hatred, zeal and greed combined.  Don't lump miscommunication in with errors and oversights.  Miscommunications are not mistakes just because the portmanteau (this week's word!) began as: mistaken communication.  When someone commits a mistake all that is required from them is an apology.  Accidents happen.  Our decision-making brains don’t always work the way we want them to, and—because it's a common affliction—when someone else’s brain doesn’t work the way they wanted it to, we empathize and forgive.
I entered a large, empty, quiet, pizza place I’d never been to before, read the menu, ordered, sat in a corner and—for the next twenty minutes—ate a salad from the salad bar, drank a liter of unfiltered wheat beer, listened to soft music and read my book.  There were no other customers.

The cook came out of the kitchen, placed a pizza box on the counter and said, “Number 86!”

I stood, walked to the counter, picked up the box, thanked the cook, declined additional spices and cheese, took the box back to my table, opened it, and looked at the pizza for all of ten seconds before I began eating a slice.  In my defense—it was the correct size, smelled correct, and the toppings appeared to be of a texture, quantity, and color conforming to my order (simply put:  there were no slices of pineapple, no odor of green peppers or red chilies, and it wasn’t cheese-only).

Out of a rift in the fabric of the universe (or maybe even the bathroom) a big fucker with gravel in his voice and forty-four years of beers poorly hidden under a 3XL shirt appeared at the counter and said, “I think you called my number a minute ago?”

Fuck.  Me.

I profusely apologized and offered to buy him a beer.  He accepted my apology, declined the beer, and waited 15 more minutes for my pizza.  And, of course, neither of us will ever eat there again (imagine how many years it must take to get food when there are a hundred people on a Saturday night).
          This is not how people act after a miscommunication, although they are—like mistakes—common to everyone.  We rarely empathize when someone else’s brain doesn’t send or receive the communication the way we wanted it sent or received.  We always think our own brain is not at fault.  When miscommunication roars its ugly maw in our face, one's first impulse is to defend our brain's portion of the communication:  “That’s not what I said.”  “That’s not what was meant.”  “You didn’t say.”  “You know what I mean when I say.”  “I’m not a mind reader.”
I sat and talked with a dozen friends, co-workers, and family members at Oktoberfest.  Many of us were drinking unfiltered wheat beer and (as a group) it was decided we’d walk a circuit of the festival area to see the food booths as well as identify what types of music were being played and, once everyone returned to the table, we’d drink some more and come to a consensus on eats and music venue (at the time, that was the understanding my brain concluded had been decided for it).

Twelve brains—even sober ones—can never make a decision and act as a unit, and within three minutes a couple wanted to stand in line to get some food, five minutes later someone else wanted to shop at the craft booths and her husband decided to sit and wait for her, ten minutes later and another couple wanted to stay in the polka tent.  After less than an hour, the group was down to six.

As we walked past a tent with a band playing a cover of Prince’s 1999, I said, “This is the best tent because they’re playing Rock.”  I was hoping to sway the rest of the group.  (I thought I heard affirmative responses.  I thought my wife agreed.)

As we strolled through a little, grassy, shaded, park-like area one of the last couples decided to go get food but (because they didn’t want to lose the group) asked if we would wait five minutes for them.  We agreed.  And then almost immediately the last two people disappeared and it was just my wife and I.

Five minutes became ten.  We were sitting on a large boulder in the little park-area and we both needed to empty our bladders as well as refill our beer mugs.  We stood up, began walking and I said, “None of them are coming back.  Why don’t we go to the WC and after that...” At this point, she began to nod and our paths began to diverge as she turned toward the women's WC, so she looked at me over her shoulder as I completed the sentence (with a rise in my voice to insure I was heard over the festival volume):  “ ...I’ll meet you at the Rock Tent.”

Over the next three hours I listened to music, purchased more beers, went to the WC a few more times, walked back to the original table twice, scanned the crowds on and off (admittedly, my care-factor decreased as my intoxication increased) but I never ran into my wife.  Eventually I spoke with one of the other members of the group and he told me she was way beyond supernova angry in the little park-area.

“You goddamn fucking asshole!”
“Why are you waiting here?  I’ve been looking for you for hours.”
“Because the last words out of your mouth were, I’ll meet you at the rock!”
“The Rock?  I said, I’ll meet you at the Rock Tent.  Why would we meet at this...?”
“I don’t fuckin know!  I thought it was a stupid place, but that’s what you said!”
“But it wasn’t.  I’ve been waiting for you in the Rock Tent.”
“You just said you’ve been looking for me for hours!”
“Yea, well.  When you didn’t show up after enough time, I began looking for you...but I always returned back to the Rock Tent.”
          Every time I enter a location where becoming separated in the crowd is even remotely possible, I ask the question of all in attendance, “Where’s the rock?” 

          One might think everyone's cell phones eliminate the need for a “rock.”  That assumption is incorrect.  Wherever (when did that portmanteau get formed just so we could drop an e?) people congregate in large numbers the cell towers usually fumble the increased load; in very noisy locations, not everyone can feel their phone’s vibration all the time; batteries die.  Mistakes.  Are made. 

The familiar identity of things has to be pulverized in order to destroy the finite associations with which our society increasingly enshrouds every aspect of our environment.  —  Mark Rothko


Angela said...

Haha, love the thing with your wife. Did she ever forgive you?

veach st. glines said...

Ahhh, what an interesting statement in a question format...that only half of a miscommunicating pair might be grudge-justified.

I wonder if others tend to believe the sender is more responsible than the receiver (or vice-versa)?

I suspect, however, that you phrased your question based on her sitting and fuming while I was lackadaisically looking and continuing to enjoy the fest. And - to answer your question - no; although we remained together only a couple more years, she never reflected on it with laughter or humor.

Mary Witzl said...

This is the story of my life. I doubt I could count the number of times I've said something that was misconstrued or misconstrued something that was said. We've all got our own agendas playing in our minds half the time and they have an awful tendency to get in the way.

For what it's worth, my husband would have been frothing at the mouth over the rock meeting. He still tells everybody about the time I went to Denmark on the train while he was stuck in Germany, looking for me, and it wasn't even my fault.