I’ve always believed that the lack of communication creates most of the problems in the world. Today’s use of abbreviated texts, character-limited tweets, and instantly reported news challenges my aging brain and supports my theory. It’s like trying to read hieroglyphics without learning the symbols.
I think one of the reasons is the tendency to half-listen. Someone begins a conversation and the listener’s mind fast-forwards to finish the rest of the story or sentence using the person’s own experiences, certainties, and beliefs.
The same thing happens when a news article or even a post on social media is published. Often, the writer presents one version of an issue or event which may or may not be support by facts. Even if both sides of the story are presented, the receiver reads and applies principles, opinions, and prejudices that influence and sometimes distort the message. This can create conflict, disagreements and misunderstandings.
It happens to everyone. I’ll be the first to admit, I sometimes half-listen, or skim articles, and I misinterpret messages from friends and family. I venture to say everyone does it. I’m pretty sure no one is infallible, nor has anyone ever mastered all of the elements of perfect communications. Is there such a thing?
I offer an example of an event that occurred many years ago when my daughter, who had started junior high at a new school, left a message for me at work. I had gone to lunch and when I returned, I found a brief note on my desk that read, “Pick your daughter up at school.”
Before I left for work, she’d told me she didn’t feel well, but she’d insisted on going to school. I immediately assumed her cold had worsened and she needed to go home. My work schedule did not offer me the opportunity to take off on short notice, so I called my husband and asked if he could pick her up, reminding him of her new location and trying to give him directions.
“I’ll find it,” he reassured me. After nearly an hour of searching, he located the school and went directly to the nurse’s office expecting our daughter to be there. She wasn’t. The nurse directed him to the main office and they paged her on the intercom.
Meanwhile, the woman at the desk said, “I’m glad you’re here.” She presented a piece of to him. I can only imagine his puzzled expression as he looked at the blank personal check.
“We can’t accept this,” the woman folder her arms and frowned.
My husband, who does not write checks, advised her that he’d have me write out a new one. Meanwhile, my daughter arrived, surprised to see her father. When she asked where I was, he explained that I couldn’t get off to pick her up. Without communicating any further, they left, but on the drive home, my daughter inquired as to why she was being taken home. His reply, “Because you’re sick.”
“No I’m not,” she adamantly denied, and asked to be taken back, noting that she had an after school meeting with the Honor Society she didn’t want to miss. “Well, you are now. We’re going home.”
Embarrassed about the blank check and upset that I sent him to the school unnecessarily, he refused to take her back. Eventually, she convinced him and she made her meeting.
By the time I got home from work, I received an earful from both of them. I had failed to ask for details regarding the short note. He refused to listen to my directions for getting to the school, and she could have clarified why he was taking her out of school.
The check was another disaster for which I accepted full responsibility. It turned out that in my haste to take care of business before I hurried off to work, I had grabbed a felt marker and had written a check to the school to pay for my daughter’s weekly lunch ticket. When she turned it into the school, it had all the proper information. Unfortunately, all that had disappeared by the time they were processing the check into their system, making it useless. I had used a sewing marker with disappearing ink. It’s a great invention for marking material, but not very good for writing checks.
We all laugh about it now, but it truly taught me a great lesson about asking questions, confirming suspicions, and only using ballpoint pens for check writing. It saves a lot of time for enjoying the finer things in life.
I work hard on my communication skills even today. It takes practice to listen, ask questions, and clarify the messages received, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone worked a little harder at it?
In my soon-to-be released novel, The Dahlonega Sisters, superstitions, fear, and miscommunications create conflicts and test the bond between three aging sisters. Until then, I have a few questions for you.
Has someone misinterpreted a text or email you sent?
Did it result in a conflict or broken friendship?
What could you have done differently?