AS I CLOSE in on half a century of working with words, you might think that I would have gotten some things down by now. But, no. Just this past week I found myself caught in a miscommunication muddle that reminded me that being halfway clear just isn’t clear at all.
I’d billed a client for a freelance project, only to have them question the amount. I had charged my usual hourly rate, not the slightly reduced fee we had agreed on when I had previously handled some ongoing contract work for them some time back. I thought this, they thought that. Strike one.
I owned up to my side of the miscommunication, while pointing out there had been some poor presumption on both sides. Plus, they hadn’t told me they had a budget limit for the project, which I slightly exceeded. “How about we meet halfway?” I suggested. Fair enough, they agreed. Everything seemed okay.
Then I got a message from their accountant, offering to pay an amount less than the revised/reduced invoice I had submitted. The reason: they thought the “halfway” I mentioned was between my previous charge and present hourly rate. That was not my halfway, which was between what they had expected to pay and what I had expected to be paid. Strike two.
When I noted that their halfway meant I took more of a hit, while my halfway meant we shared equally in the over- and under-payment, they were gracious enough to agree.
Still, this whole amateurish exchange between communications professionals reminded me of the dangers of what I recently heard dubbed assumicide. As Daniel Handler said, “Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make, bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake, if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble.”
Halfway clear is no-way clear. Strike three. You know the rest.