Communication is a funny thing. It can be a thousand page novel or a single word. An hour long speech or the chorus of a song. It could be a gesture or a glance. A simple touch.
Often much is communicated through complete and total silence. (Although not usually what the non-communicator thinks is being communicated)
Miscommunication isn’t a funny thing. Miscommunication leads to anger, resentment, frustration, hurt, sadness, missed opportunities.
Back in history, communicating with those not close by meant days, weeks, months of waiting for a reply. Today we can send a message in an instant.
And yet we continue to struggle to truly communicate.
I “communicate” a lot. I’m active on Facebook, somewhat on Twitter, I text, I email, I blog. Yet somehow, I am losing my ability to truly interact and communicate with people.
When you call me, I likely won’t answer. Why have a whole telephone conversation complete with awkward moments when I can say what I have to say and then it’s over?
I used to like to talk on the phone. I have spent hours on the phone with friends, family. In my past dating life I could spend all night talking on the phone, falling asleep to the voice on the other end of the line.
That’s a big part of how my husband and I fell in love- when we weren’t even dating we would talk on the phone for hours at a time and never get bored with each other. We talked about our plans for the future, our dreams, our past, the silly things that happened throughout the day.
After we were living together, every night felt like having a sleepover with my best friend. We would talk about our own lives, we’d talk philosophy, religion, politics, whatever.
Now, many evenings are spent with him on his tablet trolling Reddit, while I’m on my phone scrolling through Facebook or playing Candy Crush.
We have to purposely set aside time to talk with each other now. We have to set our phones down and look each other in the eye with intent to listen and understand. It doesn’t come as easy as it used to.
He still likes to talk on the phone, and he makes phone calls whenever he gets in the car. (Don’t worry, he has Bluetooth.) I, however, turn up the music and pretend I don’t have a phone. If my phone rings, I will only answer if I think it’s important. I don’t want to talk to anyone. Text me what I need to know.
My kids give me grief about how much time I spend on Facebook. Funny how this means of communicating with all of my “friends” has impeded real communication with the people standing right in front of me.
There are a lot of people I “talk” to on Facebook whose voices I have never heard. I’m not saying that’s a terrible thing. One of my favorite books of all time is “84 Charing Cross Road,” a true story about letter correspondence between a man and a woman that spans more than 20 years. Their friendship was real, despite their never having met, laid eyes on each other or spoken on the telephone.
And I’m not saying that my friendships on Facebook aren’t real. Some are with those I used to see all the time, some are with those I see sporadically, some are with those I have never physically met. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t real. It just means they are limited. They don’t require much of me.
I think part of what is so appealing about electronic communication is that it removes uncomfortable emotion from difficult conversations. I don’t have to SEE your hurt, your anger, your frustration. You don’t get to SEE my hurt, my vulnerability, my insecurities.
I’m also a writer, not a speaker. I’m the type who can think of something clever and witty to respond… 5 hours after the conversation. When I speak, my emotions overcome my brain function. I do a lot of sputtering and then my mind goes blank.
When I type, I can “speak” with confidence, especially knowing I can edit or delete before sending. I can allow you to “see” as much or as little of me, my heart, my soul, as I want.
Why is communication so difficult? Because it involves revealing ourselves; The good, the bad, the ugly.
It’s so much easier to say nothing than to say, “It hurts me when I see that you had an event where you invited everyone but me,” “Your insensitivity to my situation was painful,” “Your lack of support is deeply disappointing.”
It’s so much easier to say nothing than to say, “I’m scared,” “You hurt me,” “Why am I not enough?” “I don’t want to lose you.”
Easier, maybe, than being angry or acting indifferent.
Romantic relationships, family relationships, close friendships- these are the areas where the most miscommunication takes place. These are the people in our lives that truly matter, so why do we allow so much time to go by before resolving communication issues? Why are we ok with seething over a perceived wrong, instead of allowing the “offender” to make things right? Why would we choose to dwell in that nebulous area of wondering, instead of asking the questions? Why hold grudges instead of fixing the problem?
I think most of the time we are afraid of the answers we will get.
“Because we didn’t want you there.” “Because you made a choice that I cannot accept.” “Because I don’t believe in you.” “Because I just don’t feel it.” “Because there’s nothing you can do to make this right.”
So we stay with the unknown. It’s emotionally safer than confronting reality. We can project our own thoughts and feelings onto another, justify and bolster our opinions and feelings about them.
There have been a lot of times where I have had whole conversations in my head with someone else. By the time I have an actual conversation with them about the issue, I find that they don’t usually react the way I had predicted they would. Humility where I expected defensiveness. Hurt where I had expected anger. Confusion about how I had come to the conclusion that they felt or thought a certain way.
The truth is, some people are terrible at real communication. They just are. If you ask them, they are often baffled about how what they said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do, is completely misinterpreted by others.
There are those who use communication (or lack thereof) as a weapon or self-defense mechanism.
There are those who use communication (or lack thereof) as a means of control and manipulation.
There are those who think you should “just know,” regardless of what they are showing and telling you.
I’m a firm proponent of saying what you mean, and meaning what you say. Don’t say something unless you really mean it. And don’t leave things unsaid that need to be known. It won’t get you where you want to be in that relationship. Unless where you want to be is NOT in that relationship.
I believe that if you care about someone, you should tell them. If you’re hurt by something they did, tell them. Give them an opportunity to make it right. If you’re angry or feel disrespected, try to understand where they are coming from, but tell them how you feel. They may not realize, and if you don’t give them a chance, a whole relationship can be destroyed.
I should point out that communication is not talking at someone, it is talking with someone. It’s not about getting your point across, it’s about respecting someone enough to keep the air clear between you. It’s about relating to someone on a deeper level.
Having said all that, I have a minor announcement to make. Starting January 1, 2014, I will be on a 21 day social media fast. My goal is to work on my interpersonal communication skills, to be more present in my physical life and not in my electronic one, to take time to write, read and pray that would normally be sapped by the time I typically spend on Facebook.
It was a difficult decision for me- an actual food fast would be easier. And you all know that’s saying something.
I told my daughter yesterday as I tearfully described what I was considering that I felt like I would be putting in jeopardy what I have been building here with this blog and my Facebook page. She assured me that my loyal readers (all 5 of you) will understand what I’m trying to do, and will still be here when I return.
I hope to come back with a fresh perspective, renewed mind, and better personal relationships. I’ll be sure to take notes on all the things that happen around here so you won’t miss a thing.
Thank you all for your support these past several months, and for (hopefully) understanding about this brief hiatus. Honestly, you probably won’t even notice I’m gone.
Meanwhile I’ll be over here doing deep breathing exercises and self- control mind techniques to stay away.
I’ll leave you with this: Talk to each other. Life is too short to dwell in misunderstandings. Tell those you love that you love them. Leave no doubts. Tell those you’ve hurt that you’re sorry. Tell those that have hurt you the truth, and allow for reconciliation.
Oh, and did I mention tell those you love, “I love you?” Do it.