Miscommunication: Small or Large Olives?

Standing at the deli counter of my local supermarket, I say to the clerk, “I’d like some pitted Kalamata olives, please.”

He replies, “OK.  Small or large?”  

I respond, “The Kalamata olives.”

He asks again, “Small or large?”

Now I’m getting a little agitated, so I repeat in a louder voice, “The pitted Kalamata olives,” and point to the bowls of olives arranged behind the glass in the deli case.  

He repeats his question, “Small or large?”

More than a little agitated now, I respond in a slow, deliberate voice, “The black Kalamata olives, no pits.”

He looks blankly at me.  Finally I say in exasperation, “I don’t know what you mean.  I don’t see small or large olives. I just see ONE size.”

He smiles broadly and high above the elevated platform he’s standing on, he holds up two empty plastic containers, one small and one large, “Small or large?”

I smile and say, “Now I get it! A small container of Kalamata olives, please.”

How often does this kind of simple miscommunication happen? I thought he was asking about the size of the olives while he was actually asking about the size of the container and how many olives I wanted. 

It took us a while to realize the issue because he kept repeating the same words in the same question and I kept giving the same answer, just louder and slower as if he didn’t understand.  

Both of us bore responsibility for the miscommunication and could have helped the situation by giving more information, asking clarifying questions or viewing the situation from the other person’s point of view, rather than assuming the other person was wrong or stupid. 

This was not a crucial conversation and both of us laughed about it.  But this kind of simple miscommunication happens frequently and in more critical communications, eroding our ability to work with and lead others to get things done.  

So the next time you hit a miscommunication, whether it’s a seemingly simple interaction or the stakes are high, take a moment to clarify if the other person is asking about the size of the olives or the size of the container to put the olives in. 

And by the way, I added the olives to my salad of cucumber, tomatoes and bell peppers and it was delicious! Let me know if you’d like the recipe.