Communication Is Key
Yesterday, a coworker asked me a question about the trade show I’d attended the day before. After I answered, we got to talking about clients, issues we’ve come across in dealing with them, and strategies for improving our chances of success with them in our respective capacities.
By the time she left my office, I realized two things: 1) I’d only ever done something like that with this office’s sales staff with one other salesperson who’d left long ago, but who understood the importance of this kind of interdepartmental communication, and 2) how important this kind of communication — well, communication in general, too — actually is.
Lately I’ve been hearing complaints from various people in my life — both professionally and personally — about feeling confused, slighted, uninformed, ignored, misunderstood, etc. These are all problems resulting from a lack of communication… or a lack of effective communication, but let’s just call that “communication,” too, for the purpose of this blog, because ineffective communication isn’t really communication when you think about it anyway.
For example, when you call someone a butt clown instead of telling them why you’re upset, you’re not communicating anything to that person besides the fact that you’re immature and, like an infant, can’t really express your needs outside of throwing a fit.
(“But, Raegen, haven’t you called people butt clowns on here before?”
“Why, yes, yes, I have. But that’s different.”
“Because I also tell them why I’m upset.”
“It still seems kind of hypocritical, though…”
“Just shut up, butt clown! You’re ruining my point here!”)
The weirdest part of all of the complaints I’ve been hearing lately is that people know exactly what’s bothering them — so they’re clearly not having a problem communicating that. What is the problem, then? They’re not communicating with the right person.
It’s not going to do you any good to tell all your coworkers, for example, that you feel out of the loop and worry that it’s affecting your abilities to do your job if it’s your boss that holds and disseminates all the information you need.
It’s not going to do you any good to tell your family that you feel slighted by one of your best friends who for whatever reason didn’t send you a holiday card this year.
And your buddies are not going to solve your problems in the bedroom. But your doctor might. Your shrink might. Your partner might.
As far as I can tell, people have one of three reasons for not communicating with the right person who can help them solve the problem:
1) There is a belief that communicating will in some way damage the other person’s feelings beyond repair.
2) There is a belief that communicating won’t change anything anyway, so why bother.
3) People are chicken s***.
I’m now going to make the argument that Nos. 1 and 2 are really just thinly disguised No. 3s that aren’t fooling anyone.
While, yes, some things we say can be hurtful, no one participating in common society is so fragile that they’re beyond repair. And most of the time, the hurtful things are things being said deliberately to be hurtful, as opposed to being hurtful in and of themselves. In other words, there’s a right way and a wrong way to phrase the same thing, and people who say hurtful things are typically choosing the hurtful version.
People are smart enough to know there’s a right and wrong way to respond to most things. For example, if you ask me if you look fat in those jeans, I’m smart enough to know you’re already feeling a little insecure to begin with, and I can either be a friend to you or exploit that. One right way to respond (take notes, gentlemen) is, “I think these other ones are more flattering.” One deliberately hurtful way to respond is, “It might be time for you to start that diet again.”
There is this sort of Hollywood version of communication that leads us to believe that every time we communicate — if we’re doing it effectively — rainbows should shoot across the sky, unicorns will appear and begin prancing around doing a little happy dance for us, and the other person not only suddenly — after all this time — gets us, but the change we hoped for occurs in perfect synchronicity, and we ride off into a fairy-tale sunset ending (perhaps on those aforementioned unicorns) together.
But that’s why it’s called Hollywood, people; this is not how it works in real life. In real life, if you’ve communicated effectively with the right person in a way that could elicit change, here are just some of the things that could happen:
1) The other person, who was previously calm, expresses a new emotion. This could include joy. This could also include anger. It really doesn’t matter. If you’ve really gotten through to someone, you’ve made that person think, and that elicits an emotional response. That emotional response is a sign of progress. But it also inspires fear in the heart of men (and women — you know what I mean).
2) The other person could — and likely will — respond verbally to what you’ve said. This could include, “Thank you! This was really bugging me, too, and I’m glad you brought it up.” This could include, “How can we improve this situation?” But this could include, “You know, it bothers you when I do X, but I find myself doing X when you do Y.” This also could include, “I’m not sure we should be friends/lovers/etc. anymore.” And people are typically afraid of loss and even change, even if deep down, they really want change and know change must occur.
3) Most importantly, though — and no matter what the outcome — you will finally know you had the courage to tell someone how you felt. This is the part people really don’t think about much — or if they do, thought doesn’t equate to value, but it darn well should. If you have the gonads to tell someone what’s on your mind for the purpose of improving that relationship and, bottom line, your life, no matter what happens after — no matter if that person disrespects you by calling you a butt clown, then walks out the door, or not — you can and should still be able to respect yourself.
But if you spend the rest of your life in a cage of fear, no one — not you, the person you have a problem with, nor all the outside parties you confided in about the issue — will be able to respect you.
Oh, yeah, there is one other reason a person might have for not communicating with the right person: You just plain don’t care enough. I’ve reached that point with people who’ve come and gone in my life hundreds of times over. And this is fine. Some people come into your life only for a season, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But in this case, don’t waste anyone’s time. Save all your breath, don’t complain to anyone, and just let nature take its course.
But if you’re planning to continue having any sort of functional relationship with another person, you have to be willing to communicate with that person. It’s part of change. It’s part of being an adult. It’s part of life.