Sunday, August 13, 2006

Interpersonal Communication 101

Private circumstances have recently lead me to really think about communication, interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships, and all the quiet nuances of communication. As many of you know I studied Communication in my undergrad years at Mason . It has always been one of my favorite topics to think about, debate, discuss, etc. This weekend provided me with several opportunities to focus on this love of mine yet again.

Back in the university days one of the first mantras we learned to repeat over and over again was, "you cannot not communicate." Every movement made, breath taken, glance, and word spoken sends a message. Every time a phone is or isn't answered a communication is made. The world of instant communication and messaging has only lead to a world full of misunderstood communications.

I have several internet-only friends. People who have only read my words and never heard my voice. I think many of these friends do know me quite well, but they certainly do not know me in full. My face is very expressive. My t-shirts can be even more expressive. And body language tends to speak more than a well written word ever could.

In four different instances this past weekend I found myself wondering what an original communication was intended to convey and if and where a misinterpretation took place. Twice good friends offended me with a communication that wasn't sent. Again, "you cannot not communicate." I've stopped and asked myself if I just possibly misread the communication? Was the silence intended? Was the indifference intentional? A communications professional will tell you, yes, all indifferences are intentional. It sends the message that the Sender wants you to know that the Sender is more important than you and/or your issue. So I stop and try to tell myself that the Sender is not aware of my needs at this point in time and a mature and respectful person will stop and ask if they need to be more aware of the Sender's needs, and less of their own. Unfortunately this is one of the most difficult steps in human progression, and the acceptance of the answer shows true character.

The next lesson in communication was behavior based. There are 3 parties involved. Party A believes Party B is sending a message of indigence, neglect, and indifference to Party B's personal welfare. I am Party C, and see things very different. I think Party B is sending a message of depression, confusion, and is quite frankly lost and screaming out for help with the message sent. But how do you ever know for sure when Party B will only send a message of silence and uncooperation?

The last lesson in today's Comms 101 course is all about body language and the lack thereof. The Sender (which was me) sent what was perceived by the Sender as a very direct communication expressing an opinion. The Receiver however completely interpreted the communication differently from its original intent. In fact, the Receiver got it 100% backwards from its original intent. Neither party was at fault. The misinterpretation (which is very different from a misunderstanding) was figured out and corrected. It all came down to body language. The message was sent in an email. All context, facial expression, and body language was missing. So in other words, only half the message was sent. How could the Receiver ever be expected to get the message properly when it was so incomplete? This communication experience came very close to a ending very disastrously. Thankfully neither party involved wanted it to, and very eagerly listened (okay read) the other party's point of view. No blame, guilt, or other fault finding was cast.

I think all too often too many people take all communication too personally. They don't stop to ask if there was "trouble on the line." Some miscommunications have no fault, blame, or guilt. But we all too quickly jump to the conclusions and assume the worst. I know I need to work on what message I send to others. What message did your communications to others sound like this week?


  1. This is what makes email a blessing and a curse. Sarcasm and humor cannot be adequately delineated without the facial expression and tone of voice. Heaven knows I've made a big deal out of nothing over emails received or blog comments. And quite frankly, it's much easier to be mean and pick a fight while hiding behind your monitor.

  2. I'll save my dissertation on the evils of instant messaging and emails for another day. it's far too long to get eme started on it now.


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