Monday, December 22, 2014

As funny as this: the outcome of poor communication!

Photo of 5-year-old birthday candle burning. Image source:

9th December 2014 was the 5th birth anniversary of my youngest son Rigden Subba. As usual, we decided to treat our children with cake and sweets, and of course, some simple gifts, just to make them enjoy the day among themselves. Actually I had wanted to make it a grand celebration and invite close relatives and friends, but my wife rejected my proposal on the ground that there was nobody at home to help her with cooking and making other logistic arrangements. So, we only invited her brother and his wife for a simple dinner at my place. To mark the day, I had asked my wife to order a birthday cake that morning.

After she reached me to my office, she had gone to order the cake. When I got home in the evening, they had not got the cake. My wife was told by the bakery staff that they would call her if they can make the cake ready before 6 o’clock. Since she didn’t receive the call from the bakery, she sent our daughter to get the cake. The cake was brought in and we all got together to make our youngest son cut it in a usual birthday ritual. Our daughter had made all the decorations with balloons and we left everything for her to lead the procession. By 7 o’clock, everything was settled down and we all were ready for the birthday song. But when my daughter opened the cake-box, the name engraved on the cake was that of my wife, instead of our son. We all laughed when our daughter read out the lines ‘Happy Birthday, Amrita Rai’. It was funny but I was also disgusted at my wife’s carelessness. I thanked myself that we luckily had not invited anybody. Otherwise, it would have embarrassed us all.

I asked my wife why she didn’t give our son’s name. She told me that she thought the bakery staff asked her name. Their conversation had gone like this:
Bakery staff: What’s your contact number? We will call you if the cake gets ready before 6 PM.
My wife: (she gave out her number).
Bakery Staff: Name?
My wife: (Thinking he was asking her name) Amrita Rai.
Bakery staff: Child’s age?
My wife: 5.

When my wife was asked the age of the child, she doubted if the bakery staff had asked the name of the child earlier, but she didn’t dare to seek clarification.

When I analyzed their communication patterns, I think both my wife and the bakery staff had some communication gaps. At the first place, the bakery staff should have asked the questions clearly i.e., “What’s the name of the child?” and should have explained to my wife that the name should be engraved on the cake. He should not have mixed the two questions “what’s your contact number” and “name?” together. Because it’s the firing of these two questions at a close interval had confused my wife. On the other hand, my wife should also have sought clarification when she had doubted the kind of answer she had given earlier. In general, we Bhutanese mostly take things for granted and hesitate to seek clarification if anything is not understood well. The lack of effective communication can often result in incidents like this one. We don’t need to be fluent in languages to be able to communicate effectively, but how we communicate should be simple and clear so that the other person gets the exact message you intend to convey.

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