“Whether clear or garbled, tumultuous or silent, deliberate or fatally inadvertent, communication is the ground of meeting… It is, in short, the essential human connection.” – Ashley Montagu and Floyd Matson
“Talk and change the world.” – Slogan espoused by a group of U.S. Senators who happened to be female. (as reported in Communication Works tenth edition, by Teri Kwal Gamble and Michael Gamble.)
My husband’s six year old computer finally died. He gave it a hard workout with all the high powered graphics programs he uses and it served him well. But, that means he and I are now sharing my computer, which reminded me of when we first moved here. We had only one car. That meant we drove to work together every morning and home together every night. We did that for about six years until we moved out into the country, twenty miles or more from town. Then I took a job forty-five miles in one direction and Barry continued to drive twenty-one miles in the opposite direction. That made two cars necessary and everything changed.
Once we were driving in opposite directions, the nature of our communication deteriorated. We didn’t talk as much as we had before, because our schedules were so different. I had to leave very early in the morning and usually got home three hours before having to go to bed so I’d be fresh for the next day. Every weekend I was working on school projects and Barry had his activities. We barely saw each other and little by little got out of the habit of talking, except for vital communications.
The thing that was so wonderful about driving to work together was that we got an extra twenty minutes to an hour to be with each other every day. Barry and I enjoyed that extra time. If we’d been having a conversation at breakfast, we could finish it in the car. At the end of the day, we could decompress. We both missed that. There’s something cold about going out for dinner, or going to some event and having to interrupt your lovely conversation to drive home in separate cars.
Recently,when I began to teach an introductory communication course at the local community college, I realized that Barry and I had lost some of our communication skills. As the students and I talked about the skills necessary for good communication, I realized that I needed to do as much work to improve my skills as my students did. It takes practice to have meaningful conversations with your spouse, or anyone for that matter. It’s so important to see body language, facial expressions and to truly listen to what another person is saying. It’s also important to be able to put your own feelings aside long enough to try to understand what the other person is saying.
When I look back over the years Barry and I’ve spent together, some of the moments I cherish most are when we’ve had a good talk, or worked together on a project and were communicating well. It’s been a challenge to get our communication mojo back. Fortunately we were lucky to have good teachers in how to communicate well. My dad was an exquisite listener and communicator. By observing how he listened, considered and then responded to people, I learned how to be fully present for someone else. Our home was a great learning lab. My dad taught me that listening is at the heart of good communication. Thinking about what you’re going to say before you’ve heard what the other person is saying is not communicating. Maybe that’s part of our problem at the moment. We don’t listen to each other. We don’t take time to try to understand each other. We don’t trust each other because we think that everyone else should see the world the way we do. But that’s impossible. A good communicator tries to understand how the person their talking to sees the world and then find common ground.
Maybe my communication students are right, we need to redevelop our face-to-face communication skills again. I’m in favor of that. Having good technology skills is important, but being able to understand and be understood by your family, friends and colleagues is so much more important.