I am on my way – whatever that means!

You are desperate for a particular item, there is a deadline and you have asked someone to help you get this item, this person knows about the deadline. Two hours after the deadline, the person is yet to arrive. You pick up the telephone and place a call to this person to ask the very simple question ‘Where are you?’ The response is a flat and unspecific ‘I’m on my way.’ The answer does not help you or the situation as you are unable to determine how long it will take the person to arrive.

You get exasperated and usually ask the question again as your desire is to get a specific answer in order to conclude a travelling plan. At this stage, any answer short of the exact location is unacceptable hence the repetition of the same question ‘Where exactly are you’. Unfortunately, the answer you may continue to get even after several attempts is pretty much the same – ‘I am on my way’.

It is common knowledge that the average Nigerian is not exactly straightforward. It is believed that he thinks of many possible answers to a question and decides on which one to give depending on the situation at hand and the impression that he needs to create. This is known in the Nigerian parlance as ‘scoping’ and it supposedly allows the person answering the question to gain the upper hand over the person asking the question.

It is likely that someone who gives the ‘I’m on my way’ answer is in the habit of ‘scoping’ before answering any question. For many this has become a habit that is almost impossible to shift, one that has become a part of the person, a second skin, no longer noticeable to the carrier.

The answer ‘I’m on the way’ is not here or there, it means nothing. So saying this allows a person to gain extra time or power over the person to whom they are accountable. The person also has an opportunity to change the story and location if the conversation does not go their way.

As with every habit, you may not even know it is part of you because it has become a daily practice. Remember that a habit is simply what you do regularly, perhaps what you have done for five, 10 or 20 years. No way in this world would you easily accept that it is bad because it is now part of your life. This is the same reason why it is so difficult to convince a person that he is not being straightforward.

Sadly, in the quest to prove smart and be able to play a mind game, people often short change themselves. They are quickly branded as evasive and untrustworthy and they ultimately lose out. This loss may be on a seemingly small scale, nothing to cry over, but it may also be on a much larger scale with effects that reach beyond the individual’s imagination. Sometimes people lose out on what would have been a change to their destiny because of a little lie.

I recently spoke to a gentleman who was on an errand from his boss to me. He was bringing some materials to me which I needed to use at a meeting later that day. The gentleman called me at 10am to let me know he was in my area. To save him time and the hassle of travel, I directed him to wait for me in front of a popular eatery a minute’s walk from where he said he was and I would meet him in 10 minutes. I arrived at the eatery in no time and could not find this gentleman. When I called him on the phone to inquire of his whereabouts, he told me he was at the eatery. When I informed him I was parked at the entrance of the eatery and my vehicle was the only one there, he then said ‘I’m on my way’. I repeated the question ‘Where are you?’ several times and I got the same answer. I had to insist that the gentleman let me know his exact location. Only then did I find out that he was still on an Okada bike and making his way to the eatery – a different story from what he had told me on the phone.

Even now, I don’t know if he had intentionally misled me or he had gotten lost or confused as to his exact location. In any case, he had made our conversation unproductive by withholding the required information. When I took my time to think about it, I realised that if he had been straightforward in the first instance, the entire episode would have been easier on both of us.

My question to him was to determine exactly where he was and if necessary to adjust my journey plans in order to meet him at a more convenient place for him. I guess if he knew this he would have given me a clearer answer. He had tried to ‘scope’ me. Unfortunately, he got it very wrong.

One lesson from this story is to tell the truth and never to assume. If you are unsure of about a question, it is better to clarify by asking exactly what is meant. If it is a direct question, it is better to offer the correct and direct answer rather than an evasive answer.

Life is certainly easier if people are more straightforward. Potential problems and bottlenecks can also be avoided when the facts are plain and open. Contrary to peoples beliefs, telling the truth about a potentially bad situation is always better. It is never easy to do but it is the best method of averting a more damaging situation.

If I had the exact location of my errand bearer, I would have taken a different route to meet him and would have been more appreciative of his effort in delivering the item. I would have given him extra money for his transport fare though I knew he had been given money by his boss. In all he would have benefited from running an errand and I would have been happy.

Please remember to be straightforward as it is better and saves time in the long run.

We all benefit when we do things right!