“Unclear or incomplete requests, offers, and commitments are often the source of unintended breaches of trust.”

Charles Feltman

Ah, the human condition—a delightful cocktail of emotions, misunderstandings, and the occasional accidental betrayal. You see, life is like a game of charades, only instead of acting out “A Mime Stuck in an Invisible Box,” you’re trying to convey something more complex, like “I thought you were going to pick up the kids from school.”

Let’s say you’re at a dinner party. You offer to bring the wine, but you show up with a box of Franzia. Your host, who was expecting a vintage Cabernet, gives you a look that could curdle milk. You’ve just committed the social equivalent of wearing socks with sandals. An inadvertent breach of trust, all because you didn’t clarify what “wine” meant in this context.

Or perhaps you’re in a relationship. You promise your partner a “special evening.” In your mind, this involves Netflix and a shared bag of Doritos. To them, it’s a candlelit dinner and a moonlit walk. The evening arrives, and you’re both dressed for entirely different occasions. You in your pajamas, them in a cocktail dress or a suit. It’s like a rom-com, but without the happy ending or the laugh track.

Commitments are yet another slippery slope. Let’s say you commit to helping your friend move. You’re thinking a couple of boxes, maybe a lamp or two. They’re thinking a grand piano, a pet elephant, and their collection of antique anvils. You show up in flip-flops and a tank top, armed with nothing but your good intentions and a granola bar. Trust is not just breached—it’s shattered, swept up, and thrown into the dumpster of failed friendships.

So, how do we navigate this labyrinth of linguistic pitfalls?

In a word: clarity.

Be as clear as a mountain stream and as complete as a 12-course meal. When you make an offer or a commitment, spell it out. Use bullet points if you have to. And for heaven’s sake, confirm, confirm, confirm! A quick “So, by wine, we’re talking something that wasn’t on sale at the gas station, right?” can save friendships and dignity.

Remember, my friends, clarity is the key that unlocks the door to trust. And once that door is open, you can walk through it with your head held high, but preferably without socks and sandals.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Product + Content Marketing at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.