What We Have Here Is an Inability to Communicate

I’ve encountered two instances in the last week where better communication could have saved a huge amount of misunderstanding, improved business functioning, and probably salvaged more than just money.

The first instance was personal and involved my decision to change banks. Here’s the letter I sent with names removed.

It was with deep regret that I closed all of my accounts with ___ bank last year. I have been a customer since my parents opened an account for me at ___ when I was a little girl.

This decision was reached after a great deal of reflection, but I decided I could no longer do business with a bank where a teller, without my request, changed all my accounts to my married name. I explained to her that I still used my maiden name professionally, but she insisted that I change the signature cards. Everything was fine for several years until the manager at another branch that had regularly processed checks in my maiden name decided that I needed to supply a copy of my marriage license. No one had informed me of such a requirement, though it should have been requested when the teller first made the change.

The bank also continued to allow me to deposit IRS refund checks made out to my husband and me until 2009 when suddenly I was told we needed a joint account. If such an account was always a requirement, why did no one enforce it before?

These actions prompted me to cease my relationship with the bank.

I sent the letter to the president of the bank with a copy to the state banking commissioner. Several days later I received a call from the woman in charge of customer relations. She asked a few questions and then explained that the married name “trumped” the maiden name but the bank could have worked out an alternative to allow me to process checks in my maiden name. She promised further inquiry.

As to the second issue, she said that two years ago the bank had changed its policy to prohibit the deposit of third-party checks by one person unless the bank could identify the second signer. She said most banks in the area preferred a joint account but would allow one person to deposit the check if the other person had an account at the bank. At that point Larry did have a business account at the bank, but no one told us that was an option. And no one bothered to explain the change or the reason for it. Larry and I figured out on our own that the purpose was to cut down on fraud. Anyway, I had a very nice conversation the woman and told her that if someone had explained all this to me before, the bank would still have a customer. Today I received a letter from the president of the bank saying that he had referred my complaint to the woman I talked to earlier in the week.

The second example came up last night in an NPR segment on efficiency. Note: This podcast is much longer and goofier than the broadcast I heard; the salient portion starts at about 10:40. The expert (which I’ve always heard defined as: ex is a “has been” and spurt is a “drip under pressure”) vindicated me because I (used to) keep my spices in alphabetical order for easy retrieval. Now I scramble. But he went a bit over the top when he said he organized his toiletries in order of use. Part of my morning meditation is fumbling around for the toothpaste and locating the moisturizer.

One of the things he said, though, was that a man “came after” him with one change. His comment, “I start getting yelled at. That’s when people start making physical threats … I’ve been physically threatened in a meeting once by someone because I moved their desk from one side of the room to the other.” The “expert” finally acknowledged that he didn’t explain or “sell” his ideas well enough. Duh.

Question: Is it really more efficient for businesses to make changes if the efficiencies produce more resistance and unhappiness and may lower productivity? I do believe the world could operate oh so much better if we just tried to “talk to the animals,” or at least the humans in our lives. Maybe it would even be more efficient.

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