10/31/2012 04:19 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2012

Words Are Not Enough: Banks and Presidential Debates

The other day I made a sizable bank deposit at the drive-up window after the lobby was closed. When I looked at the receipt, I noticed that the funds would not be immediately available. This surprised me because it was a check from a well-known company, and in the past funds from similar deposits had always been available at the end of that business day.

I pushed the button and waited for the teller to come back to me. I was in the car closest to the large drive-up window, so when he came back it was easy for the two of us to make good eye contact as we talked through electronic speakers.

I explained to him that I had always gotten same-day credit for such deposits and wondered why it was different this time. He told me that I was mistaken, that my deposits had always been treated this way. So I asked to speak with the manager on duty. As is the case with many large banks, managers often change, and this manager and I had not met. She had been listening from a distance and quickly told me that I was mistaken about having received immediate credit in the past -- that the bank never did that. I was certain that she was mistaken and told her I had receipts at home to prove it. She told me that if I took a careful look at those receipts I would see that I was wrong.

When she dug her heels in, I lost my patience. In a rather unpleasant and argumentative voice I said, "This is a matter of principle with me. I have been a customer at this bank for many years, and you have not heard the end of this matter." She just turned and walked away, and there wasn't anything I could do other than just simmer.

When I got home, I immediately went to the drawer where I kept bank records and found several receipts verifying that I was correct. I decided I would go see the bank manager the next day and show her the actual receipts. I had worked in the yard most of the afternoon before hurrying to the bank, and on my way back outside to put away my yard tools I passed a mirror. I was taken aback by my appearance -- unkempt hair, soiled face, and my favorite flannel shirt (that old one that is frayed around the collar and at the cuffs and that my wife has been after me for a long time to throw away).

The next day I went to the bank cleaned up and well-dressed -- white starched shirt, dark suit and tie, polished black shoes, and white handkerchief in the breast pocket of the suit. I walked into the lobby with past bank records in my black leather briefcase. Seeing the same manager that was on duty the night before at her desk in her glassed-in office, I politely asked to speak with her. The young assistant did exactly what she had been trained to do. She asked, "May I inquire what this is about?" I replied, "It is very confidential, and the bank manager will appreciate why I want to talk specifically with her." With that, the assistant fetched the manager.

She came to me with right arm outstretched, smile on her face, and in a very pleasant voice introduced herself saying, "My name is ______, I don't think we have met." I reached out to shake her hand and introduced myself. And before she could say anything, I continued in my nicest and most business-like tone of voice: "I'm the person who made a deposit at the drive-up window late yesterday afternoon and had a rather heated discussion with you about not receiving same-day credit. I have several receipts in my briefcase that clearly show the bank normally gives my same-day credit on my deposits."

She was unable to hide her surprise at the way I looked. She said, "Oh, I did not recognize you all dressed up." That one sentence confirmed what I thought. Instead of taking the time to listen to what I had to say the night before -- that is, listen to my words -- she had just made the snap judgment, based on how I looked, that I was not credit-worthy. This was a real insult to a grammarian, who takes pride in words.

She went on to say she was sorry for the misunderstanding and that, of course, I would receive same-day credit for my deposit. She would go directly to her office and make the correction to my account. I did not even need to show her the previous deposit receipts, which further agitated me.

I had come to the bank that morning ready to fight, ready to demand a detailed explanation for the way I had been treated, making sure the manager had to eat crow. But I quickly reminded myself that I had gotten what I wanted without having to argue: The manager was pleasant that morning, treated me with respect, said she was sorry for the misunderstanding, and gave me same-day credit for the deposit. So I remained pleasant, thanked her, and left the bank feeling good.

Being a grammarian, I am always emphasizing to people that words are very important, but this incident clearly demonstrates that that words alone are not enough. How we say them, how we look, how we dress, and how we treat one another when we speak also matters--sometimes as much as what is actually being said.

And as we look back on this year's presidential election, there is no doubt in my mind that presidential historians will tell us that how candidates look and act during debates can be very important, can even change the expected outcome of an election.