Sometimes we expect telepathic abilities of our guests. We think it should be obvious to everyone what we mean and are surprised when we are misunderstood. While this may sound like a letter to an advice column, I promise, I’m still talking about you and your guests.
Even if we listen to our guests, we can do it in different ways. For example, we can start a debate, initiate a discussion or hold a dialogue. Three different approaches, only one of which will help us to understand our guest’s problem.
Anyone who has studied Latin knows that debate means to “dispute or contend.” Politicians debate, trying to dispute each other’s arguments to show us how to best solve a problem. Discuss means to “break down.” We discuss when we have to make a decision and break down a problem to reach some sort of agreement. Dialogue, on the other hand, means “through consensus.” In a dialogue, we try to understand every aspect of a problem in order to resolve it.
I remember an incident while working in the mountains that describes these three approaches fairly well. Two days before Christmas a man walked up to the reception desk and asked why there was no freezer in his cabin. The girl there answered that we didn’t have freezers in any of our cabins. He claimed he had been promised a freezer. The girl explained that he must be referring to the freezer compartment in the refrigerator. He gazed at her for a moment before replying, “A freezer compartment is hardly the same thing as a freezer.”
The girl asked if she could get back to him and approached me to describe the problem.
We could have handled it in three different ways. We could have taken it as criticism and started a debate. The most important question would have been whether we had really promised him a freezer. We could have felt bad and started a discussion to answer an even more important question: How do we resolve this? Or we could have a dialogue. We could turn to the guest and ask, “What do we do now?” In this way, we’d be showing that we understood the guest’s problem. Later on we could find out why a freezer was so important.
We chose dialogue and the guest told us that his wife at that moment was on her way with a car full of food for Christmas. Their family was planning to get together and celebrate in the cabin and his wife had prepared all the food in advance. When we heard this, we no longer had any doubts that he really needed a freezer. With the help of a kind supermarket manager nearby, we arranged a freezer and the problem was solved.