Communication Overload? or Misfire?

We have so many forms of communication at our fingertips, yet we still struggle to communicate our messages. With Instant Messenger, e-mail, text and phone, are there too many ways to communicate? Which method do you use, and when? Because we have so many methods for communication, are expectations for understanding and response too high?

IM at work can be your best friend or your worst enemy. When you need a quick piece of information, you just look for the little green dot next to the name of the person you are looking for, and voila – you can see if the person you need to contact is accessible or not. Maybe. Is the dot always accurate? Why is it green but the person isn’t responding to my question? Am I not on their priority list? Where are they? Why aren’t they answering me? So maybe e-mail is a better choice because you just assume it will take a while for them to get back to you, instead of an instant response. Remember when getting a response via e-mail was considered quick compared to a fax or letter? Does anyone even use a letter any more?

Then there is communication in the world of dating. “I texted him 2 hours ago and haven’t heard back,” a friend declares. Worse yet is the IM. You send your “hi” into the ether and then wonder why they didn’t respond. Is the green dot innacurate? Maybe they are out with another man? or woman? Do they have another lover? The mind could make you crazy with this scenario. The question is, why don’t we just pick up the phone and call? It clarifies a lot of communication issues. Why? There is something about the tone of a voice – the inflection. It gives you more of the message than just the words. Amazing that the ear really is detecting so much more than consonants and vowels – it conveys a feeling. A colleague told me a long time ago to smile when I am talking on the phone because the person on the other end of call could hear my smile. What? Hear a smile? Strange yet true.

Time for me to smile and call, text or e-mail someone. Since I have the ability to communicate I feel like I should. Sometimes silence is acceptable too. Imagine being alone with your thoughts for five minutes, or call to tell someone about it.

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2010 Lessons Learned

Another year has passed and I am left wondering where the time went. I need a new clock with 30 hours a day instead of 24, because 24 isn’t cutting it. Even with the measly 24 hours per day, a lot happened in 365 days. Today I reflected on how many things changed in my life this past year and what I learned as a result. Some changes I consciously focused on throughout the year, while other opportunities randomly presented themselves. Here are my takeaways for the year…

Friendship:
Over the year I developed some new friendships and ended some old ones. Such is the circle of life I suppose. The idea of friends coming and going made me think about relationships in general. Whether with your spouse, your friend or just a new acquaintance, if you cannot communicate and respect each other, then you cannot connect. Connections are very important in our daily life. What is wrong with wishing the cashier at the market a happy holiday? The concept of connecting with people seems obvious, until you realize that some people can’t or won’t always tell you their true feelings (duh, they are not communicating!). Also, what you see on the surface may not be the reality. We all have problems and challenges in our lives, so why can’t we share them? Isn’t that what friendship is for? This year I realized more connecting and sharing (even the worst part of our lives or ourselves) felt a lot better than hiding behind conversations about the weather.

Respect:
Respect seems to be something you earn by placing boundaries around yourself. Not the unhealthy kind of boundaries made of steel bars or moats with alligators, but the kind where people are forced to treat you like a person, not a doormat. I learned this year that pushing back definitely worked. When you demonstrate to others that you respect yourself first, then they can respect you next. I didn’t let family, friends, or customers at work push me around this year and I was a lot happier as result. I highly recommend it.

Communication:
I spent a lot of time communicating this year and I am not sure the message or the end result always turned out the way I wanted. Sometimes I had to tell people things they didn’t want to hear OR listen to things I didn’t want to hear. “What?”, you say, you didn’t know that LISTENING was part of communication? No one wants to hear they lost a job or be ‘unfriended’, however, I experienced new doors of opportunity that opened when old ones closed. Accepting the situation and dealing with next steps was lot more fun that sitting around wondering ‘why me’?

Hope:
People talk about hopes and wishes, but that is total crap. If you really want something, you decide what you want and then go out and make it happen. I want to be the person making things happen, not sitting around waiting for it. I recall a friend from years ago who wanted to get married and have a family, yet she sat around her apartment waiting for Prince Charming ( or some guy named Steve) to show up at her door. You cannot depend on others to fulfill your dreams. We are responsible for our own destiny. Instead of hope, you need action.

Community:
So many people this year talked about the sense of community (or lack of it.) What happened to the small town feeling where everyone knew you and your kids? What about lending your neighbor a cup of sugar? Unfortunately whether living in big cities or suburbs, people are divided instead of brought together. Letting the neighbor kids come by for a visit so another mom can get a much-needed break seems an obvious thing to do in a community, but who am I to say anything with cinder block 6′ high walls around my house? I may have the physical walls, but I am trying to remove the mental walls, at least for myself. Hopefully others will find the removal of the mental walls liberating too.

The more I learn in life, the more I realized how little I know. I can only hope that 2011 brings as many opportunities to learn, just different ones than 2010 – because honestly, I don’t want to relive the year. Hello 2011!

Behavior Speaks Louder Than Words


Why is it that kids can drive you so crazy with their behavior? During a routine grocery shopping trip, my 7-year-old son became so irritating and annoying, I was ready to strangle him. Several hours later I felt like an idiot when I discovered that his bad behavior was caused by hunger. How could I have missed something so obvious? Why is it that a child with ample vocabulary could not explain his extreme level of hunger, yet could easily act so bratty?

Instead of words, his body seems to become spasmodic as we walked up and down the aisles. He was banging the shopping cart into the shelves. I took away his privilege of pushing the shopping cart and he stumbled down the aisle losing his flip-flop. When he finally got his flip-flop back on he realized the existence of the little plastic ‘sale’ signs sticking out in his path and proceeded to slap each one with his hand as he sauntered down the aisle. I tried to control his behavior, but instead of it improving, it grew worse, like dandelions after a spring rain. Inside I felt like unleashing both verbal and physical lashings, but had to restrain myself in a public place with security cameras. Eventually I completed the shopping trip wondering why I thought taking a child into the grocery store was a good idea.

I arrived home and opened the trunk of the car and my son attempted to shut the trunk on me as I grabbed several of the grocery bags to lug inside. Not only did he refuse to help, he seemed irritated that I would ask him to complete such a mundane and boring task. Realizing I could stand neither his behavior nor his presence, I sent him to his room. Within 2 minutes he emerged from his room and asked ,”When are you going to give me something to eat?” I can only assume that he thought I knew he was hungry, when in fact I had no idea. A granola bar from the snack drawer and all was well. The brat was transformed.

Next time I head to the grocery store I will
1) Add the contents of the snack drawer to my purse
2) Provide the snack to all children at the store entrance regardless of their statements of, “I am not hungry.”

If kids could be as effective with their words in getting our attention as with their bad behavior, then parenting would be a lot easier. Then again, no one said that parenting would be easy or that our kids would actually speak to us once we taught them to talk.

Why didn’t I get the message?

With text messages, voicemail, e-mail and instant messages, I am surprised that people have so many communication problems. How many times have you heard, “Did you read my e-mail?”, or ,”Did you see my text?”. We are all communicating at lightening speed using all these different mechanisms, but I have to wonder if our messages are actually getting through. I am not talking about whether the text or e-mail arrived, I am talking about the message we are trying to communicate. Confused? Me too!

Terabytes of data (and other numbers of bytes that I don’t even know the word for) are being generated daily, yet people are lost and confused because they aren’t getting the message. I used to think of communication methods as including written, verbal, and body language. That was easy, only three options. Body language makes up a significant portion of the message – something like 70%. No wonder we are left trying to decipher a message. Imagine trying to read a book with only 30% of the words!

The other thing that stumps me is deciding what communication to use and when. I get in trouble for sending ‘that’ in a text when I should have communicated in person. Is the quickness and efficiency of texting and e-mailing actually making us less effective communicators? Probably. Every day I see e-mail conversations that ultimately yield no decision or outcome. Time to pick up the phone and talk. Is that always more effective though? The phone lines and language capability are not always perfect. “Did you say you are shipping me nine cases of wine?” or “You will call me back on another line?” Repeating the message back and searching for understanding are the only way to receive the message. What? You don’t understand? How about I call you later and we can discuss it? The communication challenges continue, but we can’t stop trying.

Power of the Pen…

It amazes me how two people can express themselves so differently in writing, than they do in person. Why is there a discontinuity between the ‘real’ and the ‘writer’? Somehow the ability to communicate verbally causes people to trip over their thoughts. If they only had the extra time, then they could put together their ideas without the distraction of visual and audio stimuli. Then, maybe the two types of communication would be more similar.

I was watching “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949) with Judy Garland and it had a distinct similarity to the movie, “You’ve Got Mail” (1998). Later I discovered that both of these movies were remakes of the original movie, The Shop Around the Corner” (1940). I found it interesting to contrast the 1940’s hand-written letter communication to the modern-day e-mail, with the same kind of result.

These movies depict two people who disliked each other in person, but who fell in love through writing. I wonder how often people miss their perfect match in daily life for the same reason? They only see the ‘live’ version and not the letter-writer. Two people can be together day after day communicating ineffectively, yet two people living miles apart with no face-to-face meetings can create a very close connection through their writing. It is now clear to me why love letters of the past were so powerful. Who are you going to write a letter to today?

Are you a turtle or a bird?

Communication happens when people can express their feelings without fear. I can do it. Can you? If you can’t, why not? What is preventing you? Are other people really that scary? Sometimes I wish people could be more open to discussion. Even to argue. Instead, people often crawl inside a shell and hide like a turtle.

The safety inside the shell seems nice until you realize that you are alone. If you don’t come out, you will remain alone. This is your choice. I am out of my shell, and in fact, I think I lost my shell completely. Where did I put that anyway? It doesn’t matter because I don’t need it. I have transformed into a bird – my wings are open and I am soaring above the ground. Sometimes I wonder if armor, like a shell, is just to keep people out. Are we really just keeping ourselves in, thereby preventing life? What exactly are we protecting anyway?

Relationships don’t happen in a shell because they will soon die. Even a turtle needs nourishment of some kind. How are you staying alive if you are stuck inside your shell? Are you really happy in there? Is this what you want and need? Don’t you want to live, to love and just ‘be’ instead of withering away in a cramped up space literally inside yourself? Really, your shell of fear is the only thing standing between you and your happiness. What will it be? Do you want to be a turtle, or something else?