What We’ve Got Here Is Failure to Communicate

I mean, is there any other way else to title the post? Admittedly, I haven’t even seen the film yet, but of course I’m aware of the quote.

Anyhow, I was thinking about this today, the issue of communication. We are social creatures and the twin bedrocks of that are communicating and listening. But dang is it hard. In my estimation based on my own personal experience, I would say a lot of relationships, whether romantic, platonic or familial, fade out or break because of a failure to communicate and a failure to listen. The external hallmarks, like money and extramarital affairs, can certainly cause a fissure in a relationship. But aside from those obvious examples (and even arguably money is really about communication), communication and listening are the axis on which a relationship can flourish or falter.

People think because I’m a journalist and communicate regularly with people, I must be good at communicating. At least, that seems a safe bet, right? Well, I’m not. I’m an awful communicator, and here’s why I suspect that is. Too often I assume the other person knows what I mean. That’s it. Too often I think I’ve planted a giant red flag in the middle of the conversation when in fact they can’t even see the flag or recognize it as a flag.

My face when trying to be understood.

It’s like trying to have a conversation with someone about a tree and to you, it’s a tree, it’s always been a tree, and that’s what you call those things growing and blossoming out of the ground with bark, branches, and leaves. But to them, it’s a lemon, freshly squeezed, good for making lemonade, and is sour. So, when you bring up a tree, start talking about the tree, and the person responds as if you’ve mentioned a lemon, it’s frustrating for both sides. It’s not even necessarily the fault of the other person. They’re trying to actively listen! It’s just, you haven’t found the right words or gone up to the right patch of field to meet them at for understanding.

As an example, I was talking with someone recently, and decided to open up about how hard this year has been. In my head, I thought I was being rather explicit and open about how difficult 2020 has been on a personal level for me. But they didn’t hear that. And that’s what made me think about communication: If you’re not explicitly and clearly saying what you mean, there’s a good chance the other person isn’t going to hear how it sounds to you in your own head.

I struggle with it though, both on the level of willingness to be open, and then when I am open, how to make what I’m trying to convey clear. A lot of the time, I find it easier to just … not. To not communicate rather than step around the own minefield in my head I’ve created. It’s honest-to-God hard to talk about life in a real, honest and raw way. No filters. No mental blocks. Honest heart-to-heart conversations. It’s scary!

On the other hand, I do like to think I have the other part of the social construct and contract handled well: listening and actively listening at that. Not doing that thing where you’re waiting to say your part or make it about yourself, although I’m not perfect with that. I still worry I do it. But, I like to think I’m good at listening. The hardest part of listening is doing just that, and not jumping in to say your opinion on what’s being conveyed or how to fix it or again, making it about yourself. That’s where my journalism background can come in handy. I’m good at asking open-ended questions and keeping the conversation oriented on the communicator.

In short, don’t assume. While what I’m saying may sound obvious in my own head, when it comes out to someone else, it may not be so obvious, and it’s not fair to get frustrated with them, even though I do sometimes, WHY CAN’T YOU UNDERSTAND ME?! sort of thing. I thought I was being simple, but not so much, apparently.

To be ironic, do you understand what I’m saying? Do you struggle with effective communication and/or listening, too?

Creative Commons photo.

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