Is it a goose?

Svanshals is a little village in the middle of the Swedish countryside. The name literally means “Swan neck”. Not a fancy name if you ask me, but I am sure that whoever came up with the idea of embellishing the cross on its church with a swan never imagined the following conversation:

  • Have you seen the bird on top of the church?
  • Oh yes! So cute! What do you think it is?
  • No idea. A goose?
  • Do they have such long necks?
  • Not sure. It could be a swan too. Coffee time? The café is open.

One cappuccino and slice of apple pie later, my friend and I continue our walk, passing the village sign as we go. This time we make the connection between the name and the bird perched on top of the church. You can imagine our silly laughter and chuckles. I could defend our failure to recognise it, saying that it was rather early on a Sunday morning and that our brains weren’t quite up to speed yet, but I won’t bother. The truth is that often we think that the words we choose are crystal clear to everyone else; we have a distinct picture of what we are saying in our heads, which is intrinsically linked to our values and way of seeing life. That’s why communication is seldom as straightforward as we think it is. Take the word boyfriend,for instance. If you search for this entry in the dictionary, you will get an idea of what I am trying to say:

  • A frequent or favourite male companion
  • A male friend
  • A male lover

Entering a relationship with someone is always potentially problematic but frankly, what are the odds when the wording is already tricky? In my world, a favourite male companion who sorts out my car problems is not my “boyfriend”! To be honest, having male friends often gives rise to a dilemma too. Have you made the rather common mistake of mixing up and c? If that’s the case, you’ll know that the friendship part tends to disappear rather quickly, as more often than not b is just a good excuse for getting to c. Nonetheless, clarifying the boyfriend/girlfriend issue at the beginning of a relationship can definitely save a lot of trouble.

In a similar vein, it is always worth checking that the content of your texts cannot be misunderstood. Do not assume that the clear message in your head will be visualized and interpreted by your customers in the same way. Be wise and smile!