Communication is essential. I see it at work, at home, with friends, with lovers. Bad or ineffective communication can quickly wither the best of ideas, projects, or intimate moments. Whether we embrace completely open, slightly filtered or utterly deceptive sharing, communication is the glue between people. And the quality of our interactions with others provides the basis for how cognizant we are of culture, society, community, personality, and of ourselves.
Interestingly, it seems that my most frustrating moments in life have usually revolved around ineffective communication – either due to emotional tension, mental lapse, or language barriers (English and foreign). At work, I can usually articulate my ideas clearly enough but there are times when the person on the receiving end isn’t mentally working at the same pace or is focused inflexibly on another perspective and my message gets lost in the time it takes the sound of my voice to travel to his ear. Thankfully, these frustrating moments at work are few and far between and they peacefully end with some sort of concession.
Not surprisingly, how I communicate at work frequently differs from how I communicate in my personal life. I’d hate to think that money increases my ability to be fair, objective, and rational. But, it’s probably true. Somewhat. More than the money though is my desire to impress, accomplish, and succeed. Unfortunately, these desires don’t exactly translate to personal relationships because our partners (we hope) are not constantly grading us to determine enduring viability. [Some critique constantly, consciously or subconsciously. These are the people we all need to shake hands with and then turn the other way.]
For whatever reason, many of us (women) allow our emotional sides to obscure our vision of happiness, peace, and love. I know my ultra-sensitivity comes out when I’m sleep deprived, stressed, or irritated. I become selfish and whiny. And unfortunately my emotions usually clue me in on these things a little too late, which makes any sort of communication frustrating and better off saved for later. While I’m the last to say that emotions are useless, I do believe that they are more of a hindrance than anything unless we learn to accept, control, and analyze them. [Just imagine (guys) any girlfriend of yours that you deemed “crazy” or “irrational”…Which I do NOT condone but it is a factual statement that I don’t mind using to prove my point.]
Communication is important and is different in the various aspects of our lives. We share differently with friends than we do with family than we do with colleagues. And most of us are constantly thinking of ways to improve our methods to avoid conflict, to ensure understanding, and create mutual peace.
This is all common sense. So what’s my point? Well, I’m curious – are modern forms of communication helping us to improve connecting and interacting with others?
In a superficial way, social networks help us keep in contact with people we would otherwise lose touch with or forget about and we would never know how their lives unfolded from grade school. It is also fun to find networks to which we can belong and where we feel “at home” as well. Sharing interests is a quick way to form a bond with someone.
But there is one modern method that I believe can cause unnecessary obstacles or hindrances to effective communication: TEXTING.
Yes, I said it, TEXTING.
Yes, I text. Quite a bit, too. At first I loved it. I was fully on board. It was like IM for the phone back before smartphones came around. It was a convenience for “on the go” people. You didn’t have to stand outside talking to someone, waiting to go into a theater, a store, a meeting (not that everyone waits, mind you.)
But now I’m starting to feel like I have been coerced into a relationship with my phone I didn’t sign up for.
Most of the time, I love my phone. I love technology and I love having knowledge at my fingertips. I’m a Google gal. But there are moments when I want to take my frustration out on my phone because it’s the middleman. I know, I know…don’t shoot the messenger.
But let’s think about it for a second. Aren’t text messages “instant mini-emails” (kinda like instant coffee)? Emails (in an ideal world) are usually well thought out, checked and double checked for grammar, and carefully considered before hitting the “send” or “reply all” button. Conversely, a text message by nature is usually sloppy, abrupt, and riddled with annoying abbreviations like “R U here yet?” Granted these aren’t QUITE as annoying as bad grammar such as “Where you at?”, but they still reflect on our characters. Am I the only one to realize this? I guess we can’t all be “on the go” grammarians.
Add to this innateness of the “instant email” the common misinterpretations of written text… Written text does not include tone, body language, intonation, eye contact. An inquiry marked with a smiley face seems harmless while one with two question marks turns demanding and abrasive. A sentence without a subject seems careless and disingenuous, while individual words separated by periods appear as an unquestionable proclamation. (Compare: “I miss you” and “Miss you” and “I.Miss.You.”) These are simple matters but remember that the devil is in the details for us detail-oriented folk. Especially women.
I wish I could impress upon others the nuances of written communication that are needed to compensate for face-to-face interaction.
So, how can we reconcile our frantic world where everyone is constantly engaged, hurried, and appears self-interested (whether by nature or by force) with the innate desire and need to truly communicate and connect?
I’ve found that variety is the spice of life! Social websites can fill gaps superficially but it’s only a band-aid that eventually falls off. So, I reach out via text, IM and email. My long-distance relationships really survive and grow via email. We really get to discuss topics that may otherwise be hard to talk about. And, speaking for both me and my partners, since we’re all good writers, we frequently think of things we have forgotten about because it encourages self-reflection and introspection. So not only do emails help the relationship, they also help us as individuals.
What about phone calls, you say? Well, I can make a case for and against phone calls. Personally, I dislike sitting on the phone for idle chatter and I’m sure most men do too. I’m all for deep intellectual and philosophical conversations but these really are most enjoyable in person so that you can feel the other’s energy as they discuss something for which they have passion, pick up on personal cues of comfort or discomfort. And mixing more serious conversations with the threat of hanging up or bad cell service is a recipe for heartache.
Nevertheless, I do find myself longing for the occasional phone call, to hear someone’s voice, to feel that they are close, despite their physical distance. There’s something comforting, even if it’s just for a few minutes, to hear someone say, “I love you” or smile as you hear them laugh. The warmth in a voice is doubtless lost in static words on a page. And I say this in spite of the fact that, as a writer, I’m very attached to words. I love words. And maybe that’s something to note about me – I take great care in what I think and how I write it. So I’m quick to read and re-read every message, note, text, email to decipher ALL the different meanings that could come out of it. That’s another story altogether, but still an important point.
I’m not expecting my revelation to hit home with everyone or anyone really. After all, my temporary bouts aren’t intense enough for me to revolt completely against texting. It’s all the rave. Everyone’s doing it. I am forced to join the bandwagon. And I despise bandwagons. But in order to continue communicating at all with some people, I must concede. For I secretly fear that picking up the phone and calling someone will result in voice mail because it’s seen as encroaching. At least texting has lower standards and seems to welcome silence…at least…for a little while.