While speaking at a recent association meeting, I discussed the phenomenon of distinguishing similar sounding consonants over the phone. I explained, for example, how a telephone did not accurately transmit the subtle differences between the letters “S” and “F”. One of the attendees immediately jumped out of his seat and shouted “Now I know why!” The room in which we were meeting fell silent as everyone’s attention was drawn to him. I halted my presentation and asked this excitable attendee to share his epiphany with the group.
He related an event from the previous week in which his administrative assistant had made an appointment for him to meet with a prospect on the sixth of that month. However, when he arrived at the appointment, the prospect was obviously upset, believing their appointment was to be on the fifth. This attendee shared with us his embarrassment and regret for showing up a day late due to a minor detail. The misunderstanding had harmed their business relationship.
The words “fifth” and “sixth” have a subtle and audible difference, depending on how they are pronounced. These two words sound quite similar. A professional who regularly speaks on the telephone should know that similar sounding consonants be qualified by asking “Is that “fifth” as in five or “sixth” as in six?” This extra effort ensures the accuracy.
Other similar sounding consonants include the letters “S” & “F”, “B” & “D”, “N” & “M”, and “T” & “P”. Investing a few seconds to ask, “Is that “N” as in Nancy or “M” as in Mary?” can help avert future problems.
Courageous company owners raise the bar and expect more from their employees to ensure that messages are heard, qualified and understood. The devil is in the details!