Communication Conundrums and the Love of Words

There is no pleasure to me without communication: there is not so much as a sprightly thought comes into my mind that it does not grieve me to have produced alone, and that I have no one to tell it to. – Michel de Montaigne

When I sit in my yoga room, all I can hear is the wind soughing through tree branches and birds calling to each other. As I sit there, silence gathers inside of me, until I am filled from head to toe. And from this silence, words appear. Words like ‘soughing’. Go figure 🙂

Some of my friends tell me they have to phone a friend or consult their dictionary to decipher my facebook updates or blog posts. I don’t mean to be pompous or incomprehensible – I just love words. And some of them, the strangest ones, just arrive in my consciousness, ready formed. From where, I cannot imagine.

I am not very good at listening. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it – like I am somehow uncaring and not a good person. What I mean to say is that I understand more quickly and thoroughly when I am reading about something rather than listening to someone speak about it. I have to listen to a song 100 times before I know what they are singing about. I understand movies more when they are sub-titled, and I understand the book even better.

This is very frustrating to my audio-visual husband, and probably several of my friends, although they may not know what it is that is annoying them about me. The Bear often wonders if we have actually watched the same movie, is amazed when I can’t understand the  lyrics of  a song and is insulted when I stop listening after two sentences (he is learning to be succinct).

Talking on the phone, while not exactly torturous, is uncomfortable for me. It’s fine if I know the person I am talking to well, and I see them regularly. Building a new friendship, re-building an old one or talking to a far away friend on the phone is difficult for me. I would much prefer to use email or facebook if I can’t see you in person.

I had a virtual argument about this today with an old friend I haven’t seen in years. Many years. We were very good friends before we both partnered off and had children – I was even in the Grooms party when he got married. Later, we drifted out of contact for various reasons, only coming back into contact recently through facebook – scrabble is a good way to keep in contact with men I have found :). So yesterday, I asked him what he was up to now – a lot can change in 10 years, right? He wouldn’t tell me, and said that if I wanted to know, I should call him ( and how terrible social media is, and how he deletes friends if they don’t contact him). I said I will know what has happened when I disappear off his friend list then. All in all, an unedifying experience.

So, is a phone call a more authentic form of communication than writing? Is in-person communication better in turn than writing? I have this little history of communication story in my head, which goes a bit like this:

Centuries ago, if we wanted to communicate with a person, we had to see them. Very few people could read or write – it was an elite ability. As literacy became more widespread, communicating by writing became common. There were people who didn’t like this new way of communicating, and predicted that it would kill interpersonal relationships and change human-kind forever. Change us it did. It meant that if we left our homes and moved more than a few hours walk or ride away, we could still stay in touch with loved ones. Very freeing, I would imagine. Much, much later, we started to use the telephone to communicate with our loved ones (and others). Again, some people didn’t like this new way of communicating and predicted that it would kill interpersonal relationships and change human-kind forever. Change us it did. And then came the internet, email, mobile phones and social media, all in fast succession.

There are four points that occur to me here:

  1. There are always people that don’t like change
  2. People tend to feel more comfortable with some ways of communicating than others
  3. The length of time between major changes in communication have shortened radically
  4. People did not stop using the previous methods of communicating when a new one came along, we just added, adapted and integrated, as human do.

So now when we communicate, we have to match the type of communication to the situation and/or person that we will be communicating with. We have many more options now, which is both freeing and overwhelming. Sometimes we make errors of judgement, like breaking up with someone via text message or sharing too much personal information on social media. Mistakes happen when we are learning – it doesn’t mean that the communication channel is defective, it just means that we need to spend some time getting used to it and figuring out what to do and what not to do.

What we shouldn’t do, in my opinion, is decide that one type of communication is ‘better’ than another. More appropriate to the person/circumstance? Possibly. Better or worse? No. The more options, the better. Maybe I am a little unusual when it comes to my preference for the written word (I am relying on you to tell me). Still, I do like to cater to my strengths, as do we all, and I don’t accept that the way I choose to communicate is less authentic than the way you might choose.

What do you think? How do you like to communicate?

8 comments

  1. Completely agree with you here, Sara. We all have our preferred methods of communication but depending on the person and circumstances, we often need to adapt. Some people you can never reach by phone but they’ll email or message you within 30 seconds. I also like using writing to communicate and am not a big fan of instant messaging. If I really want to talk, I’ll either call or try to meet in person. Great post here, lots of food for thought. 🙂

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  2. Today we have so many options to communicate with another person and I love it! I, too, am not a fan of talking on the phone; I avoid it as much as possible. I much prefer to text, facebook or scribe a short email.
    My husband will happily use twenty words when one will do and I will use one word whenever possible. Short, sharp and to the point, that’s how I like it. I have often gotten into trouble for getting to the point too quickly, if I don’t know you well I don’t want to hear about your day/coffee/troubles/loves/hates and I have had to teach myself to ask people how they are, end the call by wishing them a good evening or weekend and listen to people talk about stuff that makes no impact to the call or conversation. It sounds harsh I know, but there are so many things to get done in a day and if I stood around listening to every Tom, Dick and Harry waffle on then I had better go and get a Psychology degree! Now that I have my own business I have to answer every phone call, no more avoidance. I have to stop and chat about the little things in life, it’s really tough for me, I can feel myself rushing along getting to the point quickly. I also struggle with being nosey; I don’t like nosey people so I tend not to ask personal questions. When does a question become intrusive?
    Oh the conundrums of interpersonal communication!
    Look how long I have waffled on with my little ditty above! Hmmmmm…………………
    It’s true what they say that people find themselves more interesting than anybody else.
    With that little insight I’d better go, the phone is ringing! 😉

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  3. lol so true Cheryl! Alex also will talk around and around a subject until I am just about cross-eyed! I too have been guilty of getting to the point too quick and not observing the social niceties correctly. If I am undertaking a purposeful communication, I wish to arrive at that purpose fairly quickly! I do love a chat though, if that is my purpose! Still, it does not do us any harm to do things that make us uncomfortable, especially if it improves our communication skills. ♥

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  4. Oh so good I know this about you now! Lover of the word as well- you can send me running to the dictionary anytime…face to face communication is considered to be the most effective from of communication (in terms of understanding the message sent) as we are receiving so much more than the actual words. Apparently about 70% (love to know where they get that figure!) is non-verbal communication- the subtle signals we send unconsciously which say so much more than words AND it’s all about the vibes too. I much prefer face to face, however I always say things I regret. Having said that, I love the pace of the written word- to be created at your own pace and consumed at your own pace.

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    • Yes Lizzy, face to face is the ideal – all of the non-verbal cues, yes and vibes! make communication much easier to interpret. Still, the fact remains that much of my communication (and I suspect many other people’s as well) is not face to face, simply because of where I live and the stage of my life (stay at home mum, student and work). I love our weekly meetings 🙂

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  5. I agree with you. I actually prefer the written word. I get to savor it over and over and over again if I want to! Also time is a big factor. I can touch base with 20 people or more quickly using mediums like FB, where I could only talk to probably 1 person on the phone in the same timeframe. For real Quality time, I prefer entire days spent together. Interesting post Sara!

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