Recently having read Elisabeth Gilbert’s EAT, PRAY, LOVE, an engaging book that discloses the Italian’s claim on how Americans lack pleasure in their lives, I was inspired to set out on a little Italian adventure of my own. To satisfy my craving for more leisure and fun…and for a tasty, time-honored Italian meal…I decided to try and make home-made pasta and “gravy” (the red sauce with meat).

While I started out with great confidence, enthusiasm, and the traditional ingredients, I unfortunately lacked an essential component: a pasta drying rack. Still enthused, however, I got on my mobile phone and started calling stores who I thought might have what I needed.

After about a half hour of unsuccessful searching, I finally reached a woman (Eve) in a local store who seemed at least knowledgeable about the rack, although her store was temporarily out of them. Eve was very cheerful and helpful until I asked her for a recommendation of where else I might find this item. I started naming stores, brainstorming aloud possible specialty locations, and babbling on about the recipe. Then I stopped for a minute to ask her if she agreed with me that one particular culinary store might carry the rack in question. Within seconds the phone went “click.” I was aghast. I sat on the other end of the phone, shocked at her appalling attitude. What nerve, I thought.

Now I realized I probably rambled on a bit, it was a busy time of year for her, and had no doubt come across as a novice chef who might not prove to be a frequent or valuable customer for her store, and I was talking about going to the competition. Yet I was seeking expert advice, and manners are manners, right? So to hang up on me? How rude! I was steaming by then, thinking all kinds of vengeful thoughts. Just wait until I go down there and tell her I’m in the communication business and “thank” her for my next negative example of customer service!

Setting out to find my drying rack, I dressed in my most intimidating suit. My plan was to stop by her store on the way home and confront Eve about her disrespect. I would have my delicious pasta dish, prove the Italians wrong, and settle the scores with this bad-mannered woman. When I got to the store, I inquired how to find the department where Eve worked. The manager knew who I was asking about, escorted me to the specialty department, all the while raving about Eve’s knowledge and service approach: she had apparently worked there since the store opened and had contributed a great deal to the store’s success. I thought to myself, if you only knew!

The manager introduced us and walked away with another customer. Upon meeting, while my initial instinct was to pointedly tell this lady how rude she had been to hang up on me, my good grace and sense thankfully took over at the last minute. She was much older than me, very tiny with tidy hair and clothing, and had a warm smile. I suddenly felt like I was standing in my grandmother’s kitchen. I began by apologizing for being so green at this “cooking thing,” but I was the one who had called about the pasta drying rack…and well, I was surprised that she had hung up on me!

The astonished look on Eve’s face showed me immediately that I had it all wrong. In careful detail, she explained what had happened on the other end of the phone. My phone, it seemed, was going in and out and she was having a hard time understanding me. She had continued to try to tell me that she couldn’t hear me well, and that suddenly I wasn’t there anymore. She felt terrible, as she had determined that I was desperate for this item and so excited about a first attempt at home-made pasta, and hoped and figured I’d call her back. She had even called a few other stores around to ask if they had the rack I was looking for.

Her face and sincere tone told me she was telling the truth. She was so lovely, and in the end, I told her that even though I was embarrassed by my own intentions, I was glad I had come. She gave me some lasagna preparation tips and showed me a few other tools that might help me starting out in the kitchen. I learned a lot that day…about cooking, about giving someone the benefit of the doubt, and about the possible harms of technology.

As I drove home, I started thinking about that afternoon as a microcosm of a much bigger picture. While the technological age has advanced us as a productive society and has significantly increased our ability to communicate, there are some ironic, downside risks. How many times have you been on a cell phone and you or the other person have lost charge or coverage? Think about the advertisements we see that expose these ill-fated circumstances…the woman telling her partner they are pregnant, and he doesn’t react with the enthusiasm she anticipates because he’s lost the call!

What about the emails we send with important requests that never get a reply? Has the message been blatantly ignored, or did the message go into some “undeliverable” vortex? How many times have we accidentally sent a message to the wrong address by hastily hitting enter in the drop-down address list? Or misinterpreted the content or tenor of an email message that was written quickly?

Technology is now so intertwined with communication, both for personal and business gain, we really can’t imagine living without it. It connects us around the world, and gets the job done instantly! Another article could be dedicated to the benefits of technology for sure. But as with any modern-day convenience, when technology is involved, some challenges are bound to occur. After all, humans created it, and we humans aren’t perfect.

The key is to anticipate problems, avoid or prevent them whenever possible, and most importantly, don’t be completely dependent on technology. Let’s not forget the old-fashioned way of communicating – conversing in person! Driving down to the store and talking to the kind and helpful associate…

Here are a few quick tips to consider:

· If feasible, meet face to face. There is no better way in history to develop productive relationships than to interact…live. Conversing face to face allows us to ask questions, read non-verbal cues, make sure messages get interpreted as they’re meant to…and it’s fun.

· Pick up the phone. Speaking to a person live is the next best thing to being there, right? More so than the written word, speaking on the phone allows us to “read” sincerity, intent, and implication. Not only meaning, but motive can get lost in translation in emails, memos, and sometimes even voicemails.

· When communicating in writing, select your words carefully, use a positive tone, write complete thoughts instead of fragments. Avoid techno-speak or “instant” spelling. Review what you’ve read to check for tone. If using email, double check the “to” line to ensure the correct recipients.

· Assume positive intent, behave rationally, and keep a level head when corresponding with others, regardless of the communication vehicle. If something gets misinterpreted, take responsibility. Remain calm, and ask about the other person’s viewpoint. And never ever, just “assume,” for this can be a big mistake! Sometimes, it’s the technology to blame, not the person!

Even through we do occasionally have challenges with communication technology, we’ve got to be thankful for it and remember how far we’ve come. After all, remember the telegram… the fastest method of written form we had a few short years ago, replacing ox carts moving across town with the mail!