Communication: Valuable Resource, Unintended Hazard or Both?
29 Aug, 22
Have you thought about communication lately? How have we learned to communicate since our infancy through primary school? Communication is taking on a whole new role with social media: the scary mixed with the crazy and everything in-between. Does it all make you wonder: is communication helpful and supportive or does communication cause confusion and disconnect? Or, maybe both?
Communication is a means by which we all need to express ourselves in our day-to-day relationships; whether with family and friends, in the workplace, on the fly at the grocery store, and online, perhaps in a blog! Seems innocuous enough … but is it?
Those homo sapiens from the dawn of our humanity didn’t have the sophisticated language of today to relay information and meaning. They relied on grunted sounds together with body and hand gestures. Imagine what their first primitive sounds might have been like and how they developed over time – a lot of time – to arrive at something that “we” might comprehend today – what do you think they prioritized?
Communication is the best method we have to speak our thoughts and convey our meaning to one another freely. To tell others everything we want them to know: how we feel; what our needs are; if we’re injured; hungry; afraid, and in love … virtually everything. We have the ability to debate, argue, scream, whisper, talk incessantly or frivolously.
How we utilize our communication to effectively deliver information, thoughts and desires is sometimes a source of confusion, resistance, and conflict. We typically think it’s a tool we use to solve issues, but at times, communication itself can create problems. How do we workaround those potential pitfalls when communication causes unintended issues that make our message unclear or worse, hurtful and alienating?
Recently, I had an embarrassing and regrettable exchange with an old friend over the phone. She was describing the difficulty she has communicating with her elderly mother who has dementia. She didn’t ask for my input, but that didn’t stop me from offering my opinion. I was so “into” my advice-giving that I didn’t hear how my words sounded. Thankfully, she interrupted me to express her frustration and anger at my “lecturing” her. I was startled by her outburst but also by my lack of awareness and sensitivity. As a trained, experienced life coach and mediator, I’m “supposed” to be a caring, aware, and in-tune communicator. I apologized. The lesson smarted for the rest of the day, as I licked my wounds and vowed to keep my mouth shut and listen with greater compassion henceforth.
One way we can start to understand the power behind our words and message delivered through communication is to slow down/pause, be more thoughtful and considered, mindful, if you will, listen to what you’re saying – what pops out of your mouth that you wish you could unsay but it’s been said, so now what? When you hear that you’ve said something that you hadn’t intended but perhaps flew out of your mouth in the moment of debate, argument or charged emotion, you can take responsibility and apologize, if that feels right. When we start to listen and hear what we’re saying by slowing down just a bit, it can make a big difference for ourselves and others hearing our message.
We learn and practice positive reframing, empathy and understanding in mediation to support clients through their communication while resolving conflict. We all have feelings and opinions about everything, and we are often eager to express them to our family, friends, workmates, strangers, really anyone who will listen. Despite all the words in our language that are readily available at our disposal, it can be difficult to communicate exactly what’s on our mind and in our heart in the moment and with enough sensitivity to the listener to not step on their feelings, if they differ from ours, by still maintaining our integrity and authenticity in our message.
Communication requires not only a mouth and words to speak once we discover a willing audience, it represents and provides an opportunity to share thoughts, feelings, ideas, intentions, creative goals, needs and everything else that we are privileged to express. If we can regard communication more as a gift to give and receive perhaps we can understand that as with any “gift” it needs to be treasured and cared for with our best and highest intentions. In this way, we can choose to be kind, measured stewards as we share our deepest secrets and wisest ideas with those we value and love.