An Exchange of Unaltered Meaning

While enjoying the sun, sand, and warm breezes on the beach at Key West recently, I saw an interesting exchange between a resort guest and an employee that reminded me of a seminar I attended way back in 1979 which dealt with interpersonal communication.

A woman was standing about twenty feet away from me awaiting her husband and one of the resort pool boys set her up with two chairs, put towels on them and readied her for a relaxing day in the sun. At this resort there was a $28.00 per day charge for the privilege. She politely asked him to exchange her husband’s chair because it was worn and had a large indentation. The pool boy did it, but in a passive-aggressive way let her know that he was unhappy with her. And off he went down the beach to set up some other beach goers.

What happened next was interesting. As the young man passed by the woman on his way back, she called him over to explain that she hadn’t meant to upset him and wasn’t criticizing his work to which he replied, “My grandmother told me not to let negative people spoil my day,” and hastily walked away. Not only was I shocked by his behavior, as an employee at an expensive resort, but I was amazed by the lack of communication I had witnessed.

Even though it was 35 years ago, I remember that seminar clearly. And the reason I do is because the seminar leader, who was a very articulate and sharply dressed man, defined communication as “an exchange of unaltered meaning.” He also mentioned that there were always three factors in any interpersonal communication: what you bring, what the other person brings, and what actually transpired. He glibly warned us that we never want to get “soiled” by the other person’s baggage!

After witnessing the lack of communication on the beach, I could see that the woman was upset. So, I walked over and assured her that she wasn’t to blame for his behavior. He clearly “chose” to be angry and it wouldn’t have mattered what she said to him. She had been soiled and was appreciative of the cleansing support from an objective bystander.


© 2015 Steven M. Stroum

Steve Stroum

Steve Stroum

Steven M. Stroum, founder and president of Venmark International is a seasoned publicist, marketer, and entrepreneur who has been featured in INC Magazine, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, Industrial Marketing, OMNI Magazine, USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, The Middlesex News, San Francisco Chronicle, and other media outlets. He has also appeared on numerous radio and television programs, addressed many business and civic groups, and been a guest lecturer at Boston College, Babson College, MIT, and his alma mater Northeastern University.

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