Have you ever said A to your customers and they thought you meant B? Or they said C and you thought they meant D? Such situations can lead to flawed outcomes and damaged relationships, especially if you don’t discover the conflicting understanding till too late.
Fortunately, these experiences are sometimes merely instructive rather than serious. Take my experience, for example. While seeking a housewarming gift for a friend, I came across a small shop that touted one-of-a-kind products. The shop was full of magnificent and unusual items, many handcrafted. Perfect.
I selected a beautiful multi-grained wood bowl. When the shop owner, hereafter known as Mr. OneAndOnly, tried to remove the price tag affixed to the bowl, it left a blemish on the wood. Not acceptable. I’d have to find something else.
But Mr.OneAndOnly said, “Wait, let me look in the back for another bowl like this.” What? Another one of a kind like this one of a kind? Moments later, he returned with an identical bowl. He removed the price tag carefully and I purchased it.
I didn’t care that he had two of a kind — or maybe hundreds of a kind. My friend gushes when she receives something she likes, and she double-gushed when she saw this bowl. She was happy and I was happy.
Still, I was intrigued by our differing interpretations of one of a kind. I had interpreted it to mean that nowhere in the universe, including his store room, is there another bowl like the one I selected, whereas Mr. OneAndOnly's interpretation was (apparently) that it’s a special product not available in large numbers.
When working with customers—and with each other, for that matter—differing interpretations can spell disaster. Therefore, it’s important to ask questions and more questions to ensure that the parties involved have a shared understanding—especially (unlike my situation) when there’s a lot at stake.
This story didn’t end there. When I subsequently went to Costa Rica, I found the exact same bowl in all the tourist shops—and for one-third the price of the one I had bought. Hmmm, did Mr. OneAndOnly discover this bowl in these tourist shops, become inspired by it, and begin to produce his own? More likely, he imported the bowls to sell in his shop, which enabled him to keep a supply in the store room to replenish the display bowl if someone purchased it (or a pesky label rendered it unsalable).
While in Costa Rica, I bought several of these bowls as gifts, including one for myself. I’m quite content with many of a kind.