For a few years now, more so since we moved to another state, I have had my moments of guilt over not calling or writing (emailing) family and friends more. While it doesn’t necessarily excuse the gap in communication on my part, my little mantra of self-comfort has been “communication is a two way street”. Meaning yeah okay I’m out of touch with a lot of people, but they are also out of touch with me. Just as my outbox collects dust except for business communications, so does my inbox collect little more than spam. Well good. Guilt eased. Right?
I recently had the realization however, that a two-way street does not NEARLY encompass all that communication is. Then I cracked myself up with the analogy that in reality, communication is a four lane superhighway. Though that may even be simplifying it a little too much too, unless you say it’s one of those superhighways with the super confusing “can o’ worms” type interchanges. Yeah, that’s it!
Even the information superhighway has nothing over the human communication superhighway. There are twists and turns, merging traffic and do not enter signs everywhere! People talk before they think, react in anger or frustration; others sit and stew on something they should have said ages ago until it becomes a huge source of inner anger and frustration. Family feuds, wars and lawsuits are born because of a bad choice of words or a lack of communication. A point well illustrated in Michael Brewer’s recent blog post Finding Sarah Woodward about one ancestor who was nearly forgotten due to distance and the infrequency of communication that was inherent to her time.
Communication between humans is more than just I called you, you called me, he said, she said. It’s a delicate balance of what to say, when to say it, forethought and afterthought. Miscommunication has been the downfall of empires, businesses and personal relationships since probably the dawn of man.
The Little White Lie
I was just trying to imagine what it would be like if the people who asked me how I am doing today REALLY wanted to know the gory details. While I often DO genuinely want to know how a friend is doing when I say “How are you doing?”, I’m kind of glad that the average person I might say that to in order to be polite simply says “Not too bad!” or “I’m doing well, thanks!” rather than launch into a full description of the corn they had removed, their menstrual cycle or that strange itchy rash they’ve had.
If you do some research on the idea of little white lies, you’ll see that it’s a controversial subject. Like many things, how you look at it hinges on your upbringing, your belief system and perhaps your own empathy towards the feelings of others.
I would personally prefer to hear “You look like you’ve lost some weight!” even it’s not true that have someone point out that I look a bit bloated today. Call me sensitive.
Some of us are born communicators. They’ll tell you anything you want to know and probably many things you didn’t want to know! While there is generally nothing negative intended, you may not necessarily care to know the history of every house you drive past, the origin of that street name or the six degrees of separation that author has from Kevin Bacon.
Road Closed for Maintenance:
Communication is also a matter of not making assumptions in either direction. Don’t assume a loved one knows how you feel, or that your neighbor knows why you’re not speaking to him. And conversely, just because someone has been quiet and non-communicative, don’t automatically presume it’s because of something you did, or didn’t do.
What you don’t say can speak volumes, whether you mean it to or not. Maybe you don’t tell a friend or a family member that you love them, because you just assume that they know how you feel. Meanwhile, that person wonders what the heck is going on. Sometimes communication is simply explaining that you don’t feel like communicating today.
The modern age of communication lacks a certain degree of inflection that can occasionally make the meaning of what we’re saying murky at best. Instant message, texting, emails and social networks provide a whole range of ways to keep in touch with friends, family and acquaintances, yet at the same time present endless opportunity for miscommunication, misunderstand and itchy send button fingers.
While in person you know that your friend has a penchant for being a smart aleck, in a text only conversation, a single smart remark misinterpreted can lead to disastrous ends. On the opposite end of the spectrum what one person thinks is just friendly, charming banter can get misinterpreted by the other as a come on or personal feelings that don’t really exist.
Rapid fire, heated conversations and short tempers don’t mix well in an instant reply world. Harsh remarks and things send in anger or frustration don’t have an undo button and can result in a lot of back pedaling, apologies and regrets.
Be aware, whether on the sending or receiving end, what this lack of inflection and instant response atmosphere means. Think before you hit the send button, and take what you read with a grain of salt before you allow yourself to feel insulted or injured by it.
Don’t Blame the Navigator
While I am sure there are countless other highway analogies and communication faux pas that I could carry on about for another several hundred words, I’ll close with this. With so many ways to communicate and express ourselves, it’s easy to find a way to lay blame on the bad directions or outdated map. If you choose not to communicate at all about what you want or what upsets you, then you really can’t blame others when you don’t get what you want or they upset you. And remember before you ask, do you REALLY want to know the answer?
Is the miscommunication worth destroying a relationship or starting a war over? Are you itching to reply to someone with a smart remark or witty retort even though you KNOW it could be misconstrued or blown entirely out of proportion? Maybe that bridge out ahead sign was totally meant for someone else!
At any rate, we live in an age where communication is both unavoidable and essential. Maybe it’s a good time to remember not to drive angry on the communication superhighway, and take a deep breath before you get behind the wheel or click that send button.