Friday, January 19, 2018

Not For Neatniks

One big reason why communication is so fascinating is because it is not one thing. There is not just one way to communicate. To cite some broad categories: body language, written words, expression, verbal sounds, movement, and even silence. Within each of these one finds numerous sub-categories and variations. Collectively, this adds to communication's many complexities. As if that weren't enough, there is also the matter of difference within each sub-category. A sub-category of body language, for instance, might be slouching. Differences within that sub-category would be found in how much and even how often a person slouches.

Another example would be language. Hundreds of languages are spoken in the world and all of them have formal rules as to which people in a formal and properly-correct manner. At the same time, each language possesses a slang or informal way to speak. People tend to go back and forth between the two depending upon the setting or context in which they are speaking. This adds to the complexity that is communication. Further, it points to the notion that one cannot necessarily fit communication in one box. The result is communication often is a bit messy. It is not for Neatniks. To communicate is to allow a certain level of imbalance and messiness into one's life.

Generally, people understand this. As it is something we all do every moment of our days, my own sense is the reality of communication's irregularities are seen as an element of life itself. It goes beyond liking or disliking. People simply accept it. We go with the flow of one moment hearing a person speak in eloquent ways and then minutes later swear like a sailor. It is people being inconsistent on a regular basis. It is people existing within the framework of communication's variety of playing fields. Not for neatniks indeed. The best communicators include those able to navigate those fields or layers.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Good News

While bad news is never fun to hear, all of us expect it from time to time because life would not be life without at least an occasional down or bump in the road. Negativity, after all, is as much apart of life as its counterpart: "positivity." While it goes without saying that all of us prefer having as much as good news in our lives as possible. it is understood that too much of that can give one a false sense of security or unrealistic portrait of the world. At the same time, too much negative news can almost by numbing and instill within our psyche a deep sense of depression. In other words, too much negative information or news can make it difficult for folks to function as well as they might otherwise.

Too much negativity can also have a noticeable impact on how one communicates, particular if one is constantly on the receiving end of criticism or complaints. Such a scenario discourages meaningful interaction. It can also trigger ill-feeling or resentment if one believes they are constantly out of favor with those around them. This is why, if one has to criticize another, they should try to frame their comments in the context of some sort of positive perspective. Let's be honest: all of us are sensitive creatures who need a pat on the back even when we deserve a slap on the wrist. When it comes to communicating, "pats" can help make one more receptive to "slaps."

With all this in-mind, I thought it might be fun to conclude this particular entry with a randomly-selected list of "good news" headlines that have appeared recently in the media: "2017 was a Record Year for Organ Donors;" "Boston Police Officer Drives Stranded Family Home to Maine;" "Hundreds Welcome 3rd Grader Back to School After Right With Cancer;" "Texas Teens Collect Car Loads of Donations for Women's Center;" "Syrian Boy Seen Gazing into a Gym Now Has a Lifetime Membership;" and "After 73 Years, Dog Tag Returned to Battle of Bulge Survivor."

Friday, January 12, 2018

Bad Moods and Communication

Ever been around someone who is grumpy or in a bad mood? I have and it is not fun. They are often irritable, quick to criticize, rude and just plain unpleasant. But here is one more thing persons in bad moods are, at least according to a recent study: effective communicators. Back in 2010, "Emotion" magazine published a study in which pessimism was found to have its benefits. Specifically, persons in a foul mood were found to have a more effective communication style than those feeling more upbeat or optimistic. On the surface, this is a surprise as I automatically assumed optimists were the effective communicators. But upon further reflection, such a finding makes sense.

Persons in a bad mood may be quick to criticize but they seem to have little difficulty getting their point of view across. Their path is straight-forward and direct. When talking, they rarely have time for niceties or introducing other perspectives into their messages. Upbeat folks sure do, however. Those on the receiving end of a negative person's message seem to rarely misunderstand what is being said to them. But on the other hand, upbeat persons generally are more indirect in what they try to say. In other words, they are less direct and therefore more prone to be misunderstood. Thus, perhaps being optimistic may not always be all that it is cracked upp to be.

So, should we all start taking grumpy pills or getting up on the wrong side of the bed? Heck no. Being pleasant is a lot better than being unpleasant. What we can do is learn from those who are in a bad mood - at least when it comes to communication. Focus on putting forth clear and precise messages. Keep what is said simple and less complex. Be respectful but maintain a loyalty to the message being communicated. Apparently, this is not much of a challenge to folks in a bad mood. There is no reason optimists can not do the same. Plus, all of us much prefer connecting with persons who are upbeat.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Fighting for Happiness

Who doesn't want to be happy? As part of that broad topic, in past entries I have talked about the importance of happiness and the role communication can and does play in helping all of achieve such a desired state of mind. When communication that is carried out in a respectful, honest and straightforward manner, then a state of contentment or comfort among the participants is never far behind. In my experience, this is even the case when the topic or subject of communication is found to be disagreeable by one or all of the participants. People can disagree and still not have to stray from the "happiness circle." Such is the magic of effective communication.

Thus, it was with great interest that I read a article in the September, 2017, issue of "The Atlantic" magazine regarding the negative impact of smartphones. According to the author, Jean Twenge, these technological wonders seem to be doing a great deal of harm to boys and girls born between 1995 and 2012 - or what the author calls iGen. More and more, those people are becoming addicted to smartphones to the point it is eroding their desire to personally interact or hang-out with friends. Why? Because they are drawn to this electronic device that seems to be replacing their need to interact in-person with their peers. In other words, they are choosing screen time over face-time.

Studies suggest the smartphone has "radically changed every aspect of teenagers' lives, from the nature of social interactions to their mental health," the author writes. Taken together, the impact is detracting from any meaningful level of happiness that, ideally, teens should be feeling. The challenge, then, for those of us who are older is to help educate those of that generation as well as the ones that are behind them that as fun as smartphones and other technological devices are, they are not designed to replace the basics of life itself: connecting with others and building relationships. In that sense, old-school remains better than new-school.   

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Thank You, Queen Atossa

There used to be an catch-phrase on television that was pretty popular for awhile. "Keep those cards and letters coming in!" Alas, a letter as a form of communication is one thing we rarely see these days. People simply do not put "pen to paper" much any more. In all fairness, as a result of our great advancements in technology, there is little need to write a letter. Why attempt a letter, when you can easily and quickly knockout a text message or email? Still, I, for one, miss going to the mailbox and finding someone had taken the time to write me a letter. In a weird way, I miss no longer taking the time to write a three or four-page communique to a friend or family member as well.

According to Brid McGrath, a professor of history and humanities at Trinity College in Ireland, the whole letter-writing business was started by Queen Atossa around 500 B.C. Apparently, she had the notion that a good way to remain connected to folks who lived long-distances away was through written correspondence. Her brainstorm, as we know, triggered nearly several thousand years of written exchanges between folks, companies, organizations, etc. Now, as a form of communication, that act seems to have run its course. Rarely is it done any more. And there are absolutely no signs it will be making a comeback.

Perhaps what I miss most about letter writing is that it was an effective form of communication, more credible than texts messages or emails. By the nature of the act itself, letter writing required a time commitment and concentrated thought. When writing a letter, one had to focus on what they were saying in order to ensure they would be understood. Plus, as part of that, writers had to make sure their penmanship was adequate enough so the person to whom the letter was meant could read the note. By comparison, emails seem almost too easy. I guess I had better wrap-up this entry as I need to send a few emails to some folks. Still, than you Queen Atossa.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

What is Best for Me?

With a new year now underway, I am struck by the many articles being written that focus on the our nation's 2016 presidential election. Commentators and experts are still putting forth theories as to why the election turned out the way it did. This, of course, serves as a springboard for them to speculate on the next presidential election and what candidates will need to do to appeal to various blocks of voters. My intent with this entry is not to add to all the pontificating. (You are welcome.) However, I will say that when it comes to voting, at the end of the day, people do so based on what they feel is in their best interest.

We do what we believe serves our own needs. What would make me the most safe? What would make me the happiest? What would make my life less stressful? What would give me the most emotional, physical or intellectual satisfaction?  How folks answer those and perhaps other fundamental questions very often determines how they are going to vote. This is not to say we do not factor in others when it comes to our choices. Without question, we do. But what we glean from those considerations is filtered through what we believe best serves us. What, we ask when we complete our internal processing, is best for me?     

What steps we take when we vote are not all that different from the ones we take when it comes to communicating. How best can I put forth my thoughts? How best can I share my feelings? What is the most effective way I can pass along the information I have? These and other fundamental questions are not all that different from the ones we review when deciding how to vote for a candidate. How we communicate is driven by our self-interest. Having said that, does this mean how we vote is always wise? Heck, no. Is how we communicate always effective or successful? No way. Given that, perhaps we should consider not putting so much weight on our self-interest, particularly when it comes to actions that affect others.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year-End Thoughts

One year ends and another begins. See ya, 2017, and pull up a chair, 2018. On a multitude of personal and professional layers I have a number of thoughts when it comes to the past 12 months.  In our my own limited corner of the world, 2017 was largely positive. This blog, for instance, was recognized as being one of the top 30 on communication on the entire Internet. That's pretty cool. I started "Why Communication Matters" in 2008. Just a few days ago, I put forward entry number 1,000. I feel proud of both milestones even though to this day I still do not know how many people other than me actually read this thing.

Stepping outside my own "space," particularly as it applies to communication, I am not all that sure 2017 was all that good. At the very least, it sure seemed like a great deal of work, not unlike pushing a heavy object up a steep hillside. Lots of folks struggled to be heard, in large part I suspect out of frustration. In a more perfect world, people would be encouraged to speak out. These days, however, they seemed to be criticized and verbally attacked for it. As a result, my sense is people responded by either pulling back or raising their voices. Too much of that escalation seemed to be in the form of personal attacks and cries for censorship.

One would be hard-pressed, for example, to identify a time in our nation's history when the free press has been under such heavy and constant attack by the government. And, to be fair, much of the press is not pulling many punches when it comes to its commentary on the government. Yet here we are: the general public - perhaps ironically - holds both the media and the government in low esteem. My take-away from such a state is that we as individuals along with various entities such as the media and government should not so much pull-back from critiquing everything and everyone we wish. Rather, we all need to do it in a more respectful, even-handed way.