Good Intentions Can Be More Important Than Perfection

Not long ago, I wrote about calling your customer or an employee “honey.” It generated dozens of comments. One of our subscribers made a good point. 

He agreed that the lesson is about being “socially correct,” but perhaps we should look beyond the name that is used and instead consider the intent of the person using it. He was saying that the server may have intended to create a warm and friendly atmosphere, and calling a person “honey” was her way of doing it. There was no intent to offend or harm. In fact, there was only the intent to serve. As a society, we may be focusing on the wrong thing. What was this server’s goal? It wasn’t to disrespect, belittle or embarrass the customer. She was just being friendly.   

However, if you upset a customer by referring to them the wrong way or say something that is socially or politically incorrect, having the best intentions doesn’t make it right. But for training purposes, you have to acknowledge the intent before focusing on the change of behavior. 

This brings us to something similar to the “honey lesson” comment in that it ties into intentions.   

A friend mentioned that it surprises him when people communicate with poor use of language, and he shared a story that made me smile. Before going further, I realize I’m heading down a dangerous path, as my use of the English language is not perfect. Regardless, I hope you appreciate this story.  

As a young man, my friend was the manager of a high-end retail jewelry store. He hired a salesperson, Lila, who, in his words, “Lived only to provide excellent customer service.” As part of the sales process, the salesperson had to get the customer’s information. One afternoon he overheard Lila asking her happy customer, “Where do you live at?” (Yes, this is bad grammar – and I’m guilty of this one, too!) 

After the customer left, he politely suggested to Lila that she not end her sentence with a preposition. She said she understood, and that was that. A few days later, he heard her ask the question, “Where do you live at, sir?”   

At times, we’ve all been fixated on the wrong things. The correct use of a preposition? Really? I get it. I’m in the communications world, and good grammar is essential. And there are times when people, including me, make mistakes. Many are tolerable and can be fixed quickly with the right attitude and an apology. But remember the lesson here. In many situations, if not most, intent is more important than perfection.