“Communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationship a person makes with others and what happens to them in the world.” – Virginia Satir (Peoplemaking)
My late friend and mentor Pete Gerlach, an extraordinary therapist, identified six reasons why people communicate, I bequeath his wisdom unto you:
1) To give or receive information.
2) To cause action, change or get people to do something.
3) To vent emotionally and gain empathy, validation or understanding for feelings and experiences.
4) To gain or maintain both inner and outer respect.
5) To avoid pain or discomfort.
6) To create excitement or cure boredom.
Webster’s English Dictionary defines efficacy as “the power to produce intended results.” So, in other words, if you want to be an effective communicator, then you have to know why you are communicating. That will help you measure how well you are doing.
When we are not conscious of the reason why we are communicating we just explode words out our mouth that carry a vague notion that we want someone to do something about something. What something? Well… it! (Whatever it happens to be.) If you don’t know, then neither do I. (That’s kind of what it’s like talking to you.)
Understandably, this annoys people. Even if they respond kindly and sympathetically towards you, on some level they are judging you for not being very “with it.” (Whatever it is.) Get your shit together!
Vague communication is usually ineffective communication. It’s ok in your therapist’s office when the whole purpose of your visit is to work out exactly what you think and feel and mean. Your therapist is trained to be a sounding board for your half-baked notions while they’re in the oven. But when you go out there into the big, bad world it pays to be clear in your intentions, because people won’t know what to do with what you’re saying (plus they aren’t paid to tolerate you working it out aloud, unlike your poor therapist, bless her heart.)
What if we’re not conscious of why someone else is communicating to us? Well then, we’re less likely to be able to provide a response that meets their needs and results in a satisfactory outcome for both of us.
Imagine you come into my restaurant asking me for corn chips with your guacamole, but I serve you French Fries instead. You say, “Excuse me, I asked for chips!”; I look at you like you’re none too intelligent and say, “And there they are right in front of you, sir.” Needless to say, this escalates into a full-blown fist fight where more gets bruised than my fresh avocadoes, and all because you didn’t realize that I come from the U.K., where French fries are called chips, and chips are called crisps… With that, my perfect, five-star rating on TripAdvisor was forever tarnished, and all because we never stop to ask two simple questions: “What does this person really want? Am I being really clear about what I want?”
The example may sound silly, but how silly is the idea itself? If you watch the soaps and sitcoms on tv, you will see how the writers stir up conflicts between characters by their inability to understand one another. The greatest dramas are not conflicts between the wicked and the good, but between complex, flawed individuals who fail to communicate. What makes it so tragic is not that they fight, but our deeper knowing that if they could only express themselves clearly there would be no need for them to fight at all.
In real life, as in fiction, countless conflicts arise simply because two otherwise innocent and well-meaning people misunderstand the reason why they are being spoken to and misinterpret what is being asked of them.