Even if we’re not talking, we are communicating. In one way or the other. Whether it’s by gesture, facial expression, body language, or by just staying silent, it all adds up to the basic human need and sometimes the reason of cursing your opposite: communication. Quite often, communication is also the cause for quarrels and controversy between partners, friends and family members. It’s sometimes not the things you actually think and opine, it’s what you express, to what extent and how you do it. Be it by omitting things, by presuming the other person will get the message (or you just don’t care anyway), or if you just don’t match the expectations your opposite has when speaking to you. Communication can be rewarding if done right or it can be very frustrating. But sometimes you have to communicate if communicating goes wrong. And that you have to communicate, but better in an appropriate way.
The way how people communicate are manifold. But also the ways they don’t succeed in that matter. Here’s some beautiful examples of how people like to (mis-)communicate:
We all know the people that ask you: ‘So, any holiday plans up the horizon?’ And you answer: ‘Actually, yes!’ And you smile, happy to be able to share you plans: ‘We’re currently planning to fly to Cuba…’ ‘Ah, that’s so great, we’re also organising a trip, just now, to Egypt, my boyfriend wants to do kitesurfing, I just want to relax on the beach, you know, sipping a cocktail or two, or three, hahaha, getting tanned, have a dip in the blue sea, eat this fabulous food at the hotel we’re staying, the perfect place, ‘cause they really care about their guests, they really do, it’s just fab, and then we want to do a tour to…’ Well, you know the rest. What seems to be an interest in your holiday plan is rather an opening for themselves to go rambling on about what their vac plans are. ‘…and then this restaurant we discovered the last time we were there, we’ll definitely go there again, the lobster on couscous and chia seeds with avocado kale dip is just to die for…’
Variant B, type 1
Or, slightly similar, this typical situation in which you open with, let’s say, something bad that just happened to you or a problem of yours, like: ‘Oh man, recently, I’m having trouble sleeping. First, I can’t fall asleep, and then I always wake up in the middle of the night, several times, and next, I find myself thinking again about the trouble at work. It’s just unbearable. It stresses me at day and then it also keeps me awake at night…’ What you expect now is that your conversational partner asks you something about it, maybe tries to get to the bottom of it, analyses it, offers even some solution. Or at least provides some relief and just gives you a chance to get a bit of weight off of your chest. But nop… A quite common reply now would be: ‘Ah, yeah, that’s bad, you know, my neighbour also tells me he has trouble falling asleep, his cat, you know, it’s having these digestive problems, he suspects it might be cancer, but then, he doesn’t have the money to go to the vet and have it checked. He really should try to get a job, you know, it’s not good that he’s the whole day sitting on the sofa watching telly, yes, you heard right, television! Well, obviously he can’t afford Netflix, though, sometimes he subscribes to it, nevertheless. No wonder, he can’t afford to go to the vet…’ Yes, that’s sad indeed. What was an appeal to be heard, to be understood, to get a sounding board, is turned into a sort of story of somebody else whom the ‘applicant’ probably doesn’t even know.
Variant B, type 2
Slightly better, but not really, if your opposite starts to tell you of his own sleeping problems (‘debilitating!’), or his dreams and nightmares (‘so scary!’), or his nightly reflux (‘just disgusting, bah’), the snoring of his girlfriend (‘hor-ri-ble!!!’), this new alarm clock (‘so practical’) he just got that begins half an hour before the actual alarm time with a smooth, beautiful light gradually becoming brighter to imitate the rising sun. Have you heard of those clocks? They are amazing! There are even some that play a soothing sound, like waves of water, or birds twittering, so lovely. Um, what was I saying? Yes, my girlfriend is snoring, ALL THE TIME, I mean all night, not all the time, of course, that would be really annoying. Then I’d probably ditch her. Anyway… But no, wasn’t saying that… Right, conversational expectations, that was the topic. Bottom line: It is very difficult to feel understood and like an equal conversational partner if you are being treated as a stooge.
Another variation is the ‘stealing the thunder’ reaction. Of course, we all (c’mon, yes, more or less everybody, be honest!) want to present ourselves in the best possible light. And some slight swaggering usually is part of it (who doesn’t have an Instagram account [I know, there are some who don’t, but many have], or who never went on holidays and told his friends excitedly about it [okay, this can also just be about sharing the joy, but still ;-)], and understatement actually is also bragging, just with the underlying notion ‘I can allow me to brag about it by not bragging about it…’). We all want to be or a least feel special and also a bit exclusive. I think it’s just human nature and perfectly normal. So, when we discover this amazing new place, with its superb food creations, totally delish, and we want to tell our friend of our serendipity − what follows unfortunately sometimes? ‘Ah, you mean The Station? Yes, outstanding food quality, and the interior design, ravishing. Been there twice already.’ Or you tell your friend of this entirely natural and untouched spot in the woods where nobody else ever has been to*, with this beautiful cascading waterfall pouring graciously and elegantly into the deep blue lake below, with the sun glistening on the water and the sweet sea horses you see when looking closely down to the lakes’ ground, floating with the current, while unicorns are flying over the peak of the cascade… ‘Ah, you mean the St Johns Falls? Yes, those are amazing, we’ve been there three times already. My boyfriend just wrote a blog article about it. And we took one of the unicorns home. Bluebell Blythe Allison, you know, our daughter, is playing with it all the time…’ Yes, this obviously is very unfulfilling. Of course, we’re not always the first ones discovering something new (except maybe Columbus, or Angela Merkel discovering ‘unknown territory’), and as the listening party it can be boring to hear things about things you yourself have discovered or experienced before. But why don’t we just give our opposites an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny platform, let them ‘boast’ a little, let them shine a tad, encourage them to tell us a bit more. It makes them feel good, makes them feel they are interesting, valued. And maybe, we also learn something new. And if not, so be it. Why not just show some grandness and let them feel the generosity they deserve (or sometimes they just don’t, but then it’s even more grandness).
* or so you thought
— Little insertion with current events… —
This happened just now, just in this moment, writing the paragraph above. A sad cause, however. Earlier this day, a friend of mine texted in a WhatsApp group of three that she won’t be able to throw a Halloween party next week as it turned out that a dear friend of hers has been diagnosed with cancer. The third group member replied just now: ‘That’s bad. I know that from a friend of mine.’ Of course, she just wants to express that she feels with the person, that she empathises, sees the things from the friend’s perspective. However, to some extent the tragic element is now being taken from the friend suffering from the diagnosis of her friend, it’s being diverted. It loses importance. A somehow singular feeling and event is made random in a way. Needless to say, it sometimes helps to know that you are not alone with your problems in life, that there are others suffering from the same. But I think in such a situation, it rather helps if the focus is set entirely on the person that is hurting at that moment. Ask about it, offer some support (which, to do her justice, she did in a second sentence). In a sort of similar way, when my father died some years ago, it was me − being one of the ‘central mourners’ −, who had to console the many friends calling and crying over the phone, though, as you’d normally expect, it should have been the other way around. I found that a bit strange and ironic at that time − and I still do. Though of course I know they hurt and want to mourn to.
— Insertion end —
Communicating is difficult. Sender and recipient, sending recipient and receiving sender. Of course, many people just get carried away when they act and react, when they address and respond. They mean no harm. In a way you have to accept that, but still, it’s frustrating sometimes. Hence, to have proper conversations that are fulfilling for both of the ‘participating parties’, both need to be aware of what the opposite might want or need in that moment. It even matters if the conversation is light and about nonsense topics, but especially when a subject appears to be of importance to one of the conversational partners, the other one should bear that in mind, react adequately and give this topic the platform it deserves.
All in all, this is actually just a call to be open and aware, to value the conversational partner, his time, his sincerity and his willingness to share. And maybe if it’s going right, you get something back of that openness and appreciation. And if not, you might as well try to communicate that. So, let’s have deep and profound, funny and hilarious, balanced and mutually understanding conversations! Where’s the next café?
NB: People and locations are strictly fictitious. Okay, rather locations.