An incident from my recent holiday served a useful reminder of the importance of checking assumptions and clarifying exactly what a client wants.

A long steep hill loomed

BikerMy breathing was becoming heavier and heavier and even more laboured. My chest was screaming for my to stop. My legs were aching from every sinew. Then, I looked up from my private hell and saw my husband cycling past me. Seemingly without a care in the world. Then something caught my eye… it was the chain of his bike. Not only was he cycling past me, but he was doing so in 9th gear. The s*n-of-a-b***h. Not content with rubbing my nose in the dirt as he came past, he would do it in 9th gear. The show-off… So, being the dutiful wife, I told my husband that he was in 9th rather than 1st gear. I was then told that HE WAS IN BOTTOM GEAR. Not having the strength to remonstrate with him on the hill – he was by this point rather far ahead of me, I waited until we both came to a halt at the top of the hill. I showed my husband my chain in 1st gear and how it differed to his chain in 9th gear. You would have thought that my husband would have thanked me at this point. After all, I had just saved him from tons more effort than he needed going up future hills. But, no, that wasn’t the case. In fact, it was all my fault that he was cycling in the wrong gear in the first place. I should have told him 9 months ago when he first got his 27-geared bike that he was in the wrong gear going up hills. Had I really been mean enough to get my husband to cycle up steep hills in 9th rather than 1st gear? No. It all came down to communication, or rather mis-communication. You see, a 27-gear bike has got two sets of sprockets. 3 ‘big sprockets’ attached to the pedals and 9 ‘small sprockets’ on the back wheel. When you are in 1st gear you need to be in the smallest sprocket by the pedals and the largest sprocket on the back wheel. Whereas, when you are in 9th gear, you are in the smallest sprocket by the pedals and the small sprocket on the back wheel. When my husband checked that he was in the lowest gear he said to me, I should be in ‘low-low’. I, of course, said yes, because ‘low-low’ on my gear shifters would get you into 1st gear. However, my husband was referring to the sprockets not the numbers on his gear shifters, hence his being in 9th gear when he needed to be in 1st gear up the hills.

What’s the point of this story?

Miscommunications happen all the time. They typically happen because our respective views of the world (or situation) are different. They are different because we have different expectations coming into the situation. Or one party makes an assumption about the other which is incorrect. The next time you find yourself in a difficult situation with a client think about what expectations they have had coming into the situation, and challenge any assumptions you have made about them and what you think they want. You may find it changes your view point of the situation too.

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