Courteously checking her employees’ understanding of basic English, Jill Pemberton, the owner of a small clothing boutique, recently inquired if her simple instructions made sense to the people around her.
“I just want you guys to be courteous to our customers,” said Jill. “Does that make sense?”
Employees nodded slowly, their stunned expressions indicating that Pemberton’s words might have made an impression on them.
“That means that when people come in to the store, you say hello to them. You do not ignore them, or roll your eyes at them, or say ‘we’re closed’ when obviously it’s a half hour until close time,” continued Pemberton. “Does that make sense?”
The five employees assembled in the stock room on folding chairs were silent for several moments before coming to the unanimous decision that, yes, Pemberton’s instructions did, in fact, make sense.
“If a customer wants to check out, and you’re standing right there, ring them up. Don’t look around for someone else to do it. This is what you’ve been hired to do. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Employees looked puzzled, but were eventually forced to admit that Pemberton’s words, in general, had succeeded in cresting a low bar of intelligibility.
“If someone is in the dressing room trying on jeans, and they ask for another size, get it for them. Don’t yell, in a snotty tone, ‘Why don’t you get it yourself?’ Does it make sense that that would create a suboptimal customer experience?”
A full 13 seconds of silence passed before employee Traci Davenport, who was the subject of her boss’s silent stare, begrudgingly replied, “Yeah, I guess.”
“I said ‘Yeah I guess’ because her words did make sense,” Davenport tells us later, on her smoke break. “She seems real worried about whether or not she makes sense; we just try to support her as best we can. Seems like an anxiety issue to me.”
“Don’t say, ‘Yes, those jeans make you look fat.’ Don’t guess people’s ages or ask if they’re pregnant. Don’t say, ‘If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.’ Believe it or not, we actually want people to shop at our store. Am I making any sense at all?” asked Pemberton, sweating lightly, both hands pressed against her temples.
Silence again fell over the drafty back room as the employees stared at the floor, unsure of how to handle their boss’s strange breakdown. “Um,” said longtime employee of three months, Rachel Litgiss, “it makes sense to me.”
Pemberton then gave up her inquiry, vowing to try again another day when she could figure out a way to communicate more clearly.
“I guess it’s my fault that my employees don’t understand me,” said Pemberton, sitting in her idling car with her head pressed against the steering wheel. “But I’m trying, you know? I’m really trying. Does that make any sense?”