Communication: Sometimes it is like talking to cows


Good communication at all levels in life is an absolute necessity. Each and every one of us has our own style of communication, and we all expect others to fully understand even though we all communicate differently.

Lack of communication is evident everywhere; from personal relationships to business ones. I’ve just completed a book by Jeanette Winterson “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal.” Long story short, this book details the life of the author as an adopted child of a legalistic religious mother who had many issues of her own. The mother’s dysfunction, as happens over and over in this world, created deep seated dysfunction for the author and she had to sort it all out. The one part of the book that I found interesting in relationship to the topic of communication, was a description of a conversation she had with her “other self.”

The author described how she insisted that her “other self” take a one-hour walk every day with her and discuss things. Other Self would answer the author with totally off the wall responses, ones that didn’t match at all what the author had asked or commented on. “Our conversations were like two people using phrasebooks to say things neither understands; you think you asked the way to the church, but it translates as ‘I need a safety pin for my hamster.'”

Aside from the oddness of the whole process that she used to work through her feelings of going mad, the part that hit home was this section on the lack of any coherence between the two. Like the telephone game, whispering one thing in the person’s ear next to you and by the time it gets around the circle of friends it ends up something totally different. “My puppy has one green eye and one blue.” By the end of the turn around the circle, “The elephant at the circus could not reach the watering pail with his trunk.”

But with one-on-one communication it would seem logical that the words that come out of my mouth, or yours, or yours, would at least end up being exactly the way they were said when they reached the ears of the person standing in front of you engaging in a conversation. Alas, not so. A sentence said by one gets filtered through history of the relationship, body language as viewed by the listener, any particular angst of the moment, and whatever emotions are swirling around at the time of the conversation.

I remember this happening in the last year of my marriage. My husband would be engaging in a conversation with me that made absolutely no sense. I would say, this is what I heard and repeat back to him what he said. He would look at me like I was a nut job. He found the same to be true of what he heard me say. What is that?

How is it that words spoken one way can be heard a completely different way? Even with all of the fluff mentioned above (angst, history), the logical thinking is that the words are still said exactly as you said them. So it appears that words are probably the least effective means of communication. If you really want to communicate with someone maybe you have to just be quiet. Don’t say anything until all the words that the person speaking to you has time to be considered in conjunction with the entire communication–all the words, all the angst, all the body language, all the history.

Then ask, “Is this what you said?”

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