While I would love to tell you “all communication is good communication,” it simply isn’t true.
In the span of my lifetime (and possibly yours), communication in relationships has moved from long, hand-written letters, telephone calls, and answering machines, to email, video and audio messaging, FaceTime, Skype, and texting. Public displays of affection have gone from fondling in public to announcing in social media that you are “in a relationship.” The world of communication has changed dramatically and unless we apply our mindfulness practice to the device or method we choose, our relationships may become as defunct as 8-track tapes.
While I would love to tell you “all communication is good communication,” it simply isn’t true. And, what works well for communicating with one person, simply doesn’t with another.
Consequently, the more conscious, mindful awareness we bring to whether our methods are working or not, the better. How do we know? Watch for the results. Relationships leave signs of disease.
Years ago when I worked as a counselor in the school system, I found certain teachers were horrible communicators with the rest of the staff. The band teacher, in particular, could never quite manage to let us know about performances and practices that affected the students’ schedules or that called for our support. When the day came that an email system was installed school-wide, I watched in awe at how that changed. All of the sudden, emails were being sent from that same teacher letting us all know what was going on, and when and where the students needed to be. Clearly, the message medium made all the difference.
This reinforced my awareness that different people gravitate to different communication styles and, when known, this can add a new dimension to your relationships. If you or your partner don’t talk, try texting. If text doesn’t work, try emailing, or voice messaging, or Post -it notes, or video, or social media. You may find nonverbal people are happy to spell it out in writing or vice versa.
I met my husband on vacation and then we were apart for several months, during which we had long phone conversations. I fell in love with his ability to communicate about deep, meaningful subjects. But when I moved in with him, I found our hours-long conversations quickly diminished to mundane minutes of daily details when face-to-face. I often considered finding a phone booth to call him as I yearned for that deeper level of connection again. (Yes, there were phone booths back then and no, there were no cell phones!)
Now, years later, I’m an avid “texter.” I find texting to be a blessing in its ability to send a quick message, send a heart-shaped emoticon to someone I’m thinking about when I don’t have time for a full conversation, send pictures for sharing a moment or for handling the small stuff. Texting has allowed me to run my businesses from destinations far and wide and for that I am so grateful. But texting can equally destroy relationships both by disrespecting the person actually in front of you, and by misinterpretation and expectation on both sides of the messaging.
Texting definitely has a time and place, but this week I was reminded repeatedly about how quickly a misread (or mis-sent) text can damage a relationship. In two different business relationships, I realized that my feelings for the person I was working with were completely different in person versus through a device. When they texted me, and I them, there was confusion, frustration, defensiveness, blame, and misunderstanding. I found myself not liking them. In person, there was understanding, explanation, compassion, and kindness. I found myself loving them. In both cases, we had to agree that texting was doing the relationship in and that, what we thought was time saving, was actually destroying. (Discover nine ways tech can actually build intimacy.)
Often when someone chooses to text there is an implied urgency to the message. Email says, “Get back to me when you can.” Texting says, “Get back to me NOW.” This isn’t always safe, reasonable, possible or desirable, but even the time span between communication can be relationship devastating due to made-up stories about what is causing the delay.
Of course, there are some things that simply out of respect are best communicated face-to-face or at minimum, voice-to-voice—telling someone something serious, that someone is sick or has died, that there has been infidelity or dishonesty, proposing or breaking up to name a few. It helps to remember that rather than a cold, hard device, you are really holding someone’s heart in your hands. Choose your method wisely, your relationships depend on it.
Read more about how to stress less with social media.