Speaking to mechanics is something dread. It’s not that i’m concerned about how much it’s going to cost to get my car fixed, it’s that we don’t share a common language. Communication is, to put it mildly, skewed.
There are a number of factors at play. We both come to the situation with different luggage. From their side, mechanics demonstrate an almost pathological fear of being tied down to anything, from the simple question of ‘when will it be ready?’ to the apparently complex question of ‘what’s wrong with it?’. They then build the conversation on a foundation of assuming that i will argue with whatever they say and question the price.
This, however, is a misreading of the situation. You see, i go into the encounter expecting to be charged a lot and to have little control, but just wanting my car fixed at the end of it. I don’t want to get into discussions about bushes, gaskets and big ends because i just have no idea what they are or what they do. Peppering the conversation with words and phrases of a mechanical nature, whilst it may feel reassuring to them, simply raises my anxiety as i wait for them to ask the dreaded question ‘you know how that works don’t you?’.
The answer is invariably no, unless the question is about the steering wheel. I don’t know how any of it works, but i am a man and therefore have my own desperate desire not to be emasculated by saying ‘no’. So i invariably say ‘yes’, whilst my eyes must reveal the lie.
So there we are, the mechanic and i having a conversation, where he is talking to me in oily gibberish and i am lying by saying that i understand, whilst behind the scenes we are dancing around the question of how much it’s going to cost, which, overall, is the thing i am concerned least about. It’s not that i don’t care, it’s just that i understand that large bills are the price of my ignorance. If it knew how to do it myself, i wouldn’t have to pay someone else to do it.
Many conversations are like this. We speak the same language, use the same words, both laugh at the appropriate cue points, both smile, both say yes, but underneath it all there is a different agenda playing out.
A good communicator will understand this and aim to adapt their language accordingly. We all ‘tune in’ with a particular conversation, using different words with family, with friends, with lovers and with children: each group having their own tone of voice, their own special words or phrases and their own delivery.
Communication is not just skin deep. There are many layers of meaning and, if we want to avoid misunderstanding, we need to understand the person that we are speaking to.