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communication breakdown
June 24, 2014 6:14 PM   Subscribe

Why you're (probably) not a great communicator

Why do we find communication so difficult?
One: No good role models
Two: Can you be ‘bad’ and yet still – overall – good?
Three: It will hurt you too much to hear this
Four: No one can understand me

Effectively communicating your feelings: "I know that it can be hard to talk about your feelings. We’re not taught to do it, and we’re certainly not taught that it’s an important thing to learn. But it’s definitely a skill worth practicing. Because you’re worth being heard. I promise."

Effective Communication - Improving your Social Skills "People aren’t born with good communication skills; like any other skill, they are learned through trial and error and repeated practice."

Bakadesuyo1: What are the fundamentals of conversation skills?
Succeed Socially2: Some Common Conversation Mistakes and Core Listening Skills

How Self-Awareness Leads to Effective Communication: "Our previous experiences, believes, values, assumptions, judgments and bias influence the quality of our listening. Whenever we listen to something, we evaluate what we are hearing and this in turn triggers our emotional reactions and our judgment. If we hear something that contradicts our values or our interests, we tend to react, by becoming defensive; our ability to be effective listeners is hostage of our own filters."

Are You a Poor Communicator? How to Improve: "...communicating with others can be a difficult and frustrating experience. There are times when we mean well, but because of the way we say what we say, our message is misunderstood, with unintended and undesirable consequences."

Raptitude3:
Other people see your problems more clearly than you do
5 steps to stop worrying what people think of you

previously on MeFi: 1 - 2 - 3
also previously: Brené Brown on shame & vulnerability (one, two)
posted by flex (23 comments total) 272 users marked this as a favorite

 
The first linked article is so perfectly right on that it's surreal.
posted by invitapriore at 6:24 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]


What are you trying to say here?
posted by Kabanos at 6:33 PM on June 24 [6 favorites]


It seems generally understood among couple's therapists that when a couple comes in to work on "communication issues," the issue is never really communication -- it's some combination of items 2-4 in that first article, almost always combined with one or both partners having learned, due to items 2-4, to stop letting themselves feel anything.

(I'm still reading through the other links, but I loved that first article.)
posted by jaguar at 6:50 PM on June 24


The Brené Brown links should be in regular size, not small font! (She says, over-enthusiastically.)
posted by eviemath at 7:05 PM on June 24


One of the most helpful things therapy can give you is the training to read your own mental/emotional state and then communicate that reading effectively to another person, along with the learning that doing so will not result in the world blowing up or everyone you love leaving you forever.

It's surprisingly hard and takes years of mindful practice.
posted by annekate at 7:28 PM on June 24 [4 favorites]


Uh..hmmm, what?
posted by sammyo at 7:55 PM on June 24


A big part of communication is willing to be vulnerable as you reveal your authentic self. As part of the no good role models, there are so few good, authentic conversations in mainstream media/films it isn't funny.

I've been trained in non-violent communication and it is really helpful but there are some people so limited by their mental illness I have had to just refuse to communicate with them anymore lest I pick up their unhealthy communication coping strategies.

And yeah, a lot of "communication issues" in relationships aren't misunderstanding each other as much as hearing the other person perfectly well but not having empathy for their point of view/willingness to change behaviour.
posted by saucysault at 7:58 PM on June 24 [10 favorites]


"Good communication means the capacity to give another person an accurate picture of what is happening in your emotional and psychological life – and in particular, the capacity to describe its very darkest, trickiest and most awkward sides in such a way that others can understand, and even sympathise with them"
The way this article defines communication reminds me of Greg Egan's Total Affect Protocol. I get that the conclusion is we should recognize that what's unattainable is hard, and thus we should forgive our past communication failures and aim high and so on. But some of the other articles, e.g. the one in Time, imply people can be pretty mediocre wordsmiths and still be great communicators if they basically try to think about other people and what their goals are for interacting with them. I liked that about those links, and I also liked the first one for encouraging practical albeit egocentric stuff like self-examination and considering what role models you've had, etc. I would maybe just cut people and language itself some slack and not measure successful communication against grasping at the weird ineffables of our interior lives.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:00 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


KLAATU BARADA FUCKING *NIKTO*. Why can't you people just *listen*?

Yeah I mostly just make jokes. Excellent post, though.
posted by uosuaq at 8:09 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


OMG FLEX
posted by shakespeherian at 8:29 PM on June 24 [15 favorites]


Modern neuroscience tells us that we don’t actually have freedom of belief. (from the 5 steps article)
I don't know about all that, but I really agree with the rest of that argument. Giving people freedom of thought is so vital. Recognizing the autonomy of others is a really big key to life.

It allows you to let go when the other person doesn't like you, as pointed out in the article, which is helpful when dealing with strangers and ex-lovers and the whole spectrum between. It also allows you to love more fully and to "live and let live."

I really enjoyed this article and the entire set here. Lots to chew on and think about. Thanks!!
posted by sockermom at 8:56 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


This is going to take me a while to read and digest. Truly fundamentally helpful. I'm dealing with a very slow-motion complicated breakup and so much of this is spot on as to why our relationship failed.

Thank you for posting this.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:15 PM on June 24


"Three: It will hurt you too much to hear this
Four: No one can understand me"


Certainly true. A lot of issues boil down to "This is going to cause great agony if I tell you the honest truth, so I need to hedge around the bush so that you don't hate me/our relationship ends." I play that game so many damn times. Plus if you are that brutally honest with someone, the communication tends to ah, go to hell in a hurry and get even worse because of Feelings.

From the raptitude link/quoting Steve Pavlina:

"I don’t think I’ve ever met someone that claimed they didn’t know what to do who wasn’t butt up against the most obvious solution, staring them right in the face the whole time. They claim ignorance in order to prevent themselves from having to face that solution, which is often quite clear to everyone around them."

That's certainly true, and it's pretty much what happens every time someone asks for advice. The reason we're all asking for advice is because we're hoping to god there is some other option out there besides X Thing We Don't Want To Do. And there never is. It's why DTMFA exists and why so few MF's get D'd ever when everyone you know is telling you to do it. Because unlike everyone else, you luuuuuuuuuuuv him and you just hope there's some other option than X. Meanwhile, everyone else is varying their levels of blunt to vague honesty with you about it in hopes that one of those approaches gets through to you. But nothing gets through to you as long as the emotions are raging.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:40 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Thanks! Seriously though, why didn't you help me find these before I turned 49.
posted by kneecapped at 9:56 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]


These are thought provoking, thanks for the links!

I am wary of suggestions ("common communication mistakes)) about demonstrating listening and etc with body language because this is so culturally based. Looking people in the eye, frowning, crossing arms, interrupting, making personal remarks, can all be acceptable or unacceptable.

Nonetheless I find thinking about body language helpful and perhaps especially in cross cultural contexts.

Myself, I have a habit of furrowing my brow and frowning when thinking hard. I (an anglophone) lived in Quebec for a while and learned after a year working with a francophone friend that he thought I was angry whenever he spoke French ... but in truth I was trying really hard to concentrate because following French conversation isn't that easy for me. I felt so bad when he told me he had been thinking this for so long -- he had figured it out on his own, and he thought it was pretty hilarious. Amazing we were still friends, actually!

(Ok, so ... I made a minor pedantic correcting remark then changed the conversation to be about me... ... guess I should read some more)
posted by chapps at 10:25 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Seems like once again, Metafilter is going to change my life. Great post, Flex!
posted by Harald74 at 11:23 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Perhaps you have completely wasted the day on the internet...Or you are in a vortex of envy for a colleague who seems to be getting everything right at work. Or you’re feeling overwhelmed by regret and self-hatred for some silly decisions you took last year (because you crave applause). Or maybe it’s a terror of the future that has rendered you mute: everything is going to go wrong. It’s over. You had one life – and you blew it.
Can I select all of the above please.
posted by onwords at 5:42 AM on June 25 [13 favorites]


"We learn to speak by hearing others speak. And in particular, we learn to speak about tricky topics because we hear others discussing them elegantly and kindly."

Yes. This encapsulates what I love about what MetaFilter discussion can be.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:19 AM on June 25 [5 favorites]


I am posting from my sockpuppet account precisely because that article hit so terrifyingly, horribly close to home at this exactly moment I don't want to cop to it even pseudonymously.

We—I, anyway—carry such terrible shame around in our hearts. Such terrible complicated tangles of double-binds and quadruple binds, that leave us with seemingly no solution but to just stop talking about it, in the hopes that not talking about it will lead to not thinking about it, even though that has never worked.

From the article:

All this rather than feeling confident that we are basically, where it counts, essentially normal and decent people facing the typical run of chaotic and unruly desires and challenges endemic to every worthwhile human life.

With me, I assume this of everyone around me—that despite their problems, they're all doing the best they can with what they have, that amid all the failings and weaknesses and mistakes they're decent people trying as hard as they can.

But not me. Never me. Everyone else gets the benefit of the doubt, but I know every passing uncharitable thought, ever twist of unfair envy, every surge of inappropriate arousal, every late-night fantasy, every venomous thought, carefully-worded and assiduously unspoken. And the notion of admitting that there are ugly parts inside of me, unlovable and unforgivable, is terrifying at a visceral level.

If they knew, I think. If they knew what I'd thought, what I'd done, or thought about doing, every good person in my life would turn their back on me and leave me, and I would deserve it.

In the face of an emotional apocalypse like that, what choice is there but tight-jawed silence? Presented with the fear of losing everyone close to you and everything you hold dear, why would anyone even consider revealing the true extent of their ugly, too-human selves?

If anybody's come up with any kind of solution, boy howdy, I would love to hear it.

One of my favorite David Foster Wallace quotes seems appropriate.
"If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it. I know that sounds a little pious."
posted by Sock "Danger" Puppet at 2:03 PM on June 25 [11 favorites]


Well, everyone keeps answering:

"If anybody's come up with any kind of solution, boy howdy, I would love to hear it."

with "Love yourself!" and "Be nice to yourself! You'd never say that to some other human!"

(Though really, part of why you don't say that to some other human is that they'd murder you. It's not so much a question of "nice" so much as "self-preservation.")

Except, well, we don't because we know everything awful about ourselves and can't help but judge it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:57 PM on June 25


I am posting from my sockpuppet account precisely because that article hit so terrifyingly, horribly close to home at this exactly moment I don't want to cop to it even pseudonymously.

That one hit me pretty hard too. Sounds like it was even stronger for you. Words don't always help much even when they're all we've got, but still, hang in there: we're all in this together, even when it doesn't feel like it.

If only they knew...

I so hear you on that one. Even after years of counseling and therapy and so forth, there's still so much I don't dare admit to anybody. And frankly, sometimes people do react badly when they find out about your inner stuff. Maybe it reminds them too much of some of their own stuff they can't face yet, so they push you away out of fear. Maybe they misinterpret what you say as some sort of manipulation or "special snowflake" pleading. Or maybe they're just having a bad day and blurt out some harsh retort.

All that may happen. The more you open the floodgates, the more likely you'll get a negative reaction, and it will hurt. HOWEVER: Even if it doesn't feel like it, you're talking to somebody with problems of their own, including hot buttons, blind spots, and their own set of double-binds. They may not be able to help how they first react; they may even feel awful and ashamed about it, especially if they care about you. Or they may not, but the point is that it's not necessarily about you at all.

If you're anything like me, you probably can't help taking that first response to heart. That inner voice may crow "I told you so!" and remind you of it every time you think about opening up again. You may not be able to stop yourself from hearing an initial rejection as a permanent judgment (at least, I myself almost inevitably jump to that conclusion.) Somewhere in there, though, even if it takes a while, try to remind yourself that it isn't necessarily permanent. Maybe it would help to look at that first reaction as evidence that you aren't the only one with trouble communicating. If you can, try again with that same person later; it's probably even scarier the second time, but at least the ice has been broken and maybe the initial shock has worn off a little.

More practically, of course, you can start with something small instead of opening the floodgates. You don't need to reveal your deepest stuff, or all of your stuff, but even opening the door a tiny crack is better than clench-jawed silence forever.

If anybody's come up with any kind of solution, boy howdy, I would love to hear it.

Frankly I think you've hit on part of it already: admit it, talk about it. A huge part of this problem is the culture of silence, the myth of normality that whispers "Everybody else is doing OK, so you better pretend you are, too."

The more people who speak up, the less persuasive the myth gets. Even anonymously, you're still helping change the culture, making it just a little easier for the next person. That may not help the awful, sick sinking feeling in your guts, but I hope it gives you something more to answer back to those inner voices of condemnation. Maybe it'll make it a little easier for you next time too.

I'm having a hard time convincing myself this is worth posting. I'm talking to myself as much as to anyone else. But hell, "Danger", what you said did help me. I just hope this helps you, or somebody.
posted by Zimboe Metamonkey at 6:36 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


The first link is no longer working. Does anyone else know of a working link?
posted by xammerboy at 3:09 PM on July 6


xammerboy: I can't get anything on that site (Philosophers' Mail) to load, and not even the cached Google link of the first link... weird.

But I found this reprint of the original at The School of Life just now. Hope that helps =)
posted by flex at 3:16 PM on July 6


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