Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Suicide

I was in the eleventh grade in high school when I had my first introduction to suicide. One of the guys that I had lunch with every day died by his own hand. It happened over a weekend. I remember that all of us had just plopped down at the table at which we usually ate and cut-up until it was time to return to classes. Somebody asked, "Hey. Where's Jim?" Several seconds of silence passed when another spoke up, "Didn't you hear, " he said. "Jim killed himself this weekend." A lot more than seconds passed before any one said anything. We all began asking questions. Are you sure? What happened? What was wrong? None of us ever did learn exactly what was happening that made Jim decide to end his own life. He was barely old enough to drive, yet had reached a point in his thinking that death was more appealing than life. He no longer wanted to endure whatever emotional pain he was feeling. Even now, over a half century later, the memory of this tragedy gives me pause. Suicide was a thing "out there" that perhaps a one would hear about in the news or if a celebrity took their life. Yet here it was at what felt like my own doorstep. A person I actually knew, talked to, laughed with, had turned down that one-way path. Forever. I mention this incident to drive home a key point about communication. This guy was a close friend of mine, yet I had no clue as to the depth of his inner pain. Perhaps he was giving me signals that I failed to pick up on. Even if he was not, one thing I failed to do was reach out. Never mind that we talked nearly every day at school. His unexpected passing made me realize that all of us should never stop communicating with each other in meaningful ways. This includes asking hearfelt questions and then making a point of listening to what responses are given. Communicating well can help all of us feel as if we are not alone.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

A Very Personal Act

One aspect of communication that is not discussed all that often is how personal it is. It is very personal. Off-hand, I can not think of any thing that is more personal than how we present ourselves or how we communicate with others. Are we polite? Cordial? Rude? Off-putting? Whatever the answer may be, it gives a window into the kind of person we are. Yes, that glimpse may speak to us at thet specific moment in time, but it also showcases us on a deeper level. Whether we interact with what I will describe as a non-essential person in our life, such as the person behind the counter at a local movie theater or one who is essential such as a relative, then we are revealing us. "This is who I am," we are saying to them. What would we like that person's response to be to such a declaration? Do we want them to think positively about us or negatively? How about indifference? Don't forget tramautic. The list of possiblities is endless. Whatever answer we either choose or prefer, the reality is it is one in which we play a major role in answering. For instance, in a little while I am going to go to our local grocery store to pick up a few items. It is my decision to make as to how I present myself to the person in the check-out line or to other customers. Regardless of how I am feeling or whether I am having a good or bad day, this is my call to make. Whatever decision I make will heavily influence how I am perceived. It is on me, not them. Each act of communication has a purpose. But so, too, does each act leave an emotional footprint. We leave an impression with every facial expression, physical act or turn-of-phrase. Yes, the message is important, but so is the act of presenting it. This is how it is with communicating. How we communicate is how we are regardless of the circumstances. Bottom line: if we want others to think well of us, then we need to commuicate accordingly. It is a very personal act.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Truth

There are few things more simple than truth. It is, as they say, what it is. It is straightforward, uncomplicated, unbiased, and non-partisan. It has no hidden agenda, nor is it geared to manipulate, sway or direct those on the receiving end of it in any particular direction. It does not have friends, enemies, colleagues, alliances or acquaintances. There is no path on which it travels, nor does it seek to be anything other than what it is. Truth has no ambition, wish to hide or be the center of attention. It does not march to the beat of its own drummer because it leaves beats and drummers to others. Truth does not set out to please, disappoint or serve. The term popularity means nothing to it because being surrounded by others or left alone does not matter to it. If truth were a person, it would be an odd duck, a subject of great curiosity and probably gossip. It would be the focus of whispers, rumors and speculation. Adults would no doubt warn their children to stay away from it simply because they themselves were not sure what to make of it. Though not anti- social, truth would not seek out the company of others. At the same time, it would not turn away any one. It would exist to be of use or not. If used, it would not take responsiblity for how it was used by others. That would be the burden of others. At the same time, truth could be one's strongest allie or worst enemy. B eing what it is, it could be extremely helpful or a great inconvenience. When it comes to communicating, truth is the shining object that many hold high above their heads and claim to know better than anyone else. It is, they claim, the element of life that they have a true "lock-on." They even go as far as to claim they own it. But do they? Interestingly, many also claim to have have their own truth, but do they? Bottom line: truth belongs to no one and everyone. Professional communicators are wise to recognize that and treat it accordingly. This means if truth is every mis- used, then the fault is with the user. Truth is and forever will be blameless.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Sharing Bad News

Let me say upfront, no one likes bad news. I sure don't. Whenever any one says to me, "I have good news and bad news," I always respond by saying that I will take the good news, thank you very much. Of course, one cannot live anything close to a reality-based life without having to digest their share of bad news. This also applies to being the one who has to pass on the bad news. Just as none of us want to be told something "bad," being the one who has to do the telling is also a tough pill to swallow. (Over the years, my dentist has had a lot of practice with this when it comes to giving me the latest on my teeth.) Fortunately, I have good news about passing on bad news. Be honest. Straightforward. Up front. No sugar coating. No warm and fuzzy analogies designed to "soften the blow." No ambiguity. Tell your audience whether it is one other person or mutiple people the truth. Granted, it is no fun hearing that you did not get that job you so badly wanted or that your cat, Blinky, is dead. We have all been there. But let us be honest, looking back, was it not better to be told something we did not want to hear in a direct and clear way? This holds true for the teller of bad news as well, by the way. The coronavirus contines to wreak havoc in the United States. Very soon we will pass the 200,000 mark in terms of people losing their lives to it. A few days ago we learned that President Trump knew at the outset of the disease coming to our shores just how serious and deadly it was. Despite his knowledge, for months and months he opted to not be upfront about this fact and, instead, continued to communicate such things that it would disappear "magically" and that it would not be any more serious than the "regular flu." His willful dishonesty has only made matters worse for us and him. His decision to communicate the way he did - and still does - is communication at its worst.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

A Challenge for the Ages

It is a public relations challenge that scholars and practitioners will discuss for years to come. A standing president of the United States is quoted as calling those who have served in the military and, in numerous cases, given their lives in doing so "suckers" and "losers." Firstly, it is unbelievable that anyone might hold such an opinion, but mind-numbing that one such person who does is the commander in chief who oversees that same military. As this was just disclosed only a few days ago, the fall-out from his remarks remains to be seen. Not surprisingly, however, as I write this indications are that outrage is building. In response to the article, President Trump contines to deny strongly that he ever made those comments. The denial comes despite the fact numerous media outlets have corroberated the story. This brings us to the challenge now before the President's media representatives. What do they do? What do they say? How do they handle this challenge? One such hurdle is the President's well-documented history of criticising various military veterans who were captured by enemy forces. Then there is the matter of negative comments he has made over the years about Gold Star families whose children were killed while serving. The odds, it seems, are stacked heavily against those men and women currently faced with the task of defending their "boss." On first glance, the strategy currently being put forth to deny the story and charge the press with making a gross error seems to make the most sense. With that, the controversy becomes one person's word against another's. No doubt this gives the President's defenders enough of a lifeline to which to cling to justify their ongoing support. But then there is the sticky matter of truth. The President has a serious credibility problem any way. If he is lying about this as many believe, then his standing as a public figure is doomed. I will be sharing more thoughts on this in future entries.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Patience and Persistence

There is an old one-liner that says, in essence, "There are no guarantees in life except death and taxes." It is always greeted with either a chuckle or a nod or both. People recognize the harsh reality of that statement even though it is not literally true as some folks do not always pay their taxes. (They are called either criminals, lucky, or people with great attorneys on their payroll......By the way, if that last statement triggers a chuckle or nod, then you have my permission to use it and take full credit for it.) The general point is that in our time on earth there is nothning we can assume will always happen for all time. I wish to add to that brief list of exceptions: communication breakdowns or misunderstandings. No matter how well we think we communicate a message to another, there is always a good chance of one of several unintended results: the person on the receiving end of our outreach will misinterpret what we just said; we won't have stated what we stated as clearly as we thought; or the response to our message will not be what we expected. Given that, the reality of any intteraction is that rarely are we as in-sync with another as much as we might believe. The mind of the receiver of our communicating is almost always on something other than what we are saying - even if it just a little. This truism speaks to why communicating effectively is such an ongoing and neverending challenge. Communication breakdowns can and do happen at any time, even in the middle of a conversation that, up to that point, have been going well. Suddenly one of the participants starts focusing on another topic or injects their own meaning on what the speaking is saying and - presto - misunderstanding or misinterpretation is knocking on the door. Without question, communication is not for the faint-hearted. It is act that requires great patience and persistence.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Dangerous Communicators

There exists a fine line between hyperbole and lying. Hyperbole refers to making exaggerated claims not meant to be taken literally while lying speaks to making outright false statements. All of us are hyperbolic at times: "I flew down the hall" or "I felt like my head was going to explode." It is part of human nature to exaggerate to make a point or to add color to our stories or descriptions of our activities and actions. Think of all the writers, including poets, who use hyperbole to paint vivid portraits of characters and scenes that occur within their stories. The better able a writer is at this, generally, the greater respect readers have for him or her. Such praise also goes out to persons who with their verbal skills are proficient at this as well. Unfortunately, in one's efforts to be as good at hyperbole as possible, they sometimes cross that dangerous line into lying. The one side of the line is acceptable while the other is not. This is particularly dangerous when one is as good at communicating falsehoods as they are at exaggerating. Such a person is a true danger to others because one never knows how honest this person is being because they are so good at mixing exaggeration with falsified information. Particulalry for those on the receiving end of these dangerous communicators,the challenging of differentiating between the two is not easy. What, then, is the best defense against a person who easily floats back and forth between exaggeration and lying? For starters, as much as possible one must have a firm grasp of facts, particularly as they apply to what is being communicated to them. It is one thing to be a generous listener and give others license to exaggerate. But it is quite another to be steadfast in refusing to accept lies from others. The world is full of dangerous communicators. Consequently, we must all do our best to guard against them. It is a matter of protecting ourselves as well as communication itself.