It’s been said that much of humanity’s struggles result not from our inherent flaws but from our inability to communicate effectively. We bungle the expression of our thoughts and intentions and as a result, we wage wars, we become estranged from our relatives and we fracture our bond with old friends. Our flaws can be forgiven. Our communication, on the other hand, if flawed, must first be deciphered before we’re granted a reprieve.
While it may sound overly simplistic, there is at least a trace of truth in this. When we communicate, we do our best to choose our words carefully, match them with appropriate non-verbal cues and hope that the person on the other side grasps our intention. Sometimes, it works. Our relationships continue to thrive bringing warmth, comfort and a sense of stability to our days.
Sometimes, however, our best just ain’t good enough. Our hearts may be in the right place. Our words may be carefully selected. Our tone may be evenly calibrated. Still, the message becomes garbled from sender to receiver that it takes an army of spin doctors to unscramble the sincerity from the unintended connotation in our messaging.
A bit like American politics, a whole other beast from which I borrow a few terms to illustrate a few communication styles. (Please note that these terms don’t correlate with their political definition.)
The Verbally Conservative — This is the person in the relationship who doesn’t speak as often as the other person. The VC listens, or appears to listen well, however, may respond with one word answers or a simple nod. At times, the VC dislikes repeating oneself and often assumes certain thoughts, intentions and emotions are understood.
Pro: Very easygoing and would never embarrass anyone at a party
Con: Difficult to know what their emotions truly are
The Verbally Liberal — The VL speaks one’s mind with little prodding and is generally easy to understand. The VL is upbeat, outgoing and happy overall, that is, until there is a reason to be unhappy. And when there is a reason to be unhappy, the VL lets you know about it.
Pro: Very articulate and does not require deciphering
Con: Overly articulate at times when you’d rather sleep
The Blue Dog Communicator — The BDC speaks just the right amount with reasonable non-verbal cues and appears to be on the same wavelength as you. You believe the BDC shares your same vibe. That is, until the time comes for follow up. Example: You may be under the impression, based on past conversations, that the BDC is as big a Steve Carrell fan as you, but when you invite the BDC to see Carrell’s latest film, the BDC hems and haws.
Pro: Generally makes you feel right at home
Con: Can make you feel like the awesome conversation you thought for sure had with a BDC was really with a Martian
The Independent Communicator — A wild card. The IC weighs the facts according to one’s own set of experiences, expectations and biases.
The Progressive Non-verbalist — The PNV is all about emotions. Meaning and nuance are important to the PNV. Facts are secondary to what the PNV considers to be the true currency of successful relationships — big smiles, belly laughs and bear hugs.
Pro: Very forgiving and loving
Con: Words alone won’t convince the PNV
The Centrist Mediator — The CM is available to settle any dispute between any combination of the above.
Pro: Very practical; expert negotiator
Con: May be too ready to compromise
Great. I bet some of you are thinking who needs more labels that we didn’t pick for ourselves, right?
And how in the world is communication similar to politics?
Other than how convoluted things get when the message is misunderstood, or twisted or not heard, they’re not so similar at all. In our relationships, labels are easier to shed and partisanship is not often a factor. If we can remember that communication is an important means of strengthening our relationship with others, we try a little harder. We make room for mistakes (ours and theirs). We allow ourselves to meet the other person where they are. We give them the benefit of the doubt. Not so in politics.
What is your communication style?
How do you know for sure you’re hearing someone?
How do you ensure that your message gets across effectively?
Image by B Rosen