Communication Breakdown

It’s funny how differently people communicate.  Some think that because they talk, they are communicating.  Others think that if they listen, they are communicating.  Taking notes-is that communicating?  So is body language-do we count that?

When I’m teaching, I’m communicating.  My students have silent and not-so-silent forms of communication.  Boys communicate differently from girls, and men from women.  Do animals communicate?  People of different cultures have modes of communication that are sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand.  Writing is a form of communicating, too, and probably my most comfortable mode.

I start the year teaching about precision of language, and how problematic it can be when we are careless with language and use incorrect and powerful words. When I’m teaching my students literary analysis, I hammer the idea of justification-that whatever claim they are trying to make, they need to back it up with proof from the text.  When we work on argumentative writing, we try to not only consider our beliefs, but also try to predict a counterargument.  Narrative writing needs to communicate visual ideas and sensory 

The problem I’m noticing lately is when adults try to communicate only through words, and they either have little command of language, or are sloppy at it.  Some adults prefer email to face-to-face encounters, and would rather write out their feelings and opinions than talk on the phone.  In meetings, some use language to communicate verbally, others try to write it all down as it is spoken, and leave the interpretation for later.  In watching this, I’m realizing that these modes are all problematic.

The poor writer chooses the wrong word and is misunderstood.  The emailer loses the ability to show emotion and body language.  The talkers spend so much time hearing their own voice that they cannot hear anyone else, and the note takers risk having slow fingers that only catch part of the truth, and leave the rest open for interpretation.

For me, it all kind of comes back to justification and precision.  If we think, then write, we need to back up our assertions.  This isn’t to say that we all need to create lawyer-like arguments for our thoughts, but we need to think it through before it comes out of our mouth or onto a paper.  We need to consider our language, and the power of our words to motivate, measure, or make misery.  We need to choose what we say, when we say it, and how we say it with thoughts of the recipient.  To do any less opens the door for heartbreak, heartache, and misunderstandings.  I know this is a tall order-thinking before I speak is something I have to make a conscious effort towards daily.  It’s not easy, but it is getting easier.

I can only imagine how much better my world would be if more people took the time to communicate.  Isn’t it worth a try?

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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  1. Well-communicated, Jennifer! 🙂 Seems like everyday there is a situation in my own life that is caused by poor communication or just misunderstandings. I wonder if we will ever get around it?

  2. It’s hard to remember to think before you speak, but I try. I fail too. I have also found that people don’t do a lot of face to face business. I get a lot of emails versus picking up the phone. I miss when people used to do human interaction.

  3. Great post!! I can’t tell you how many times I have found my foot in my mouth. It’s just that my mouth sometimes has a mind of its own and spouts off without checking with my… now when I write… thank God for editing and then sometimes I may miss a “bold” or “italicize” a word {and go back and fix it}… but when we say something… I am teaching my daughter(5) the power of our words.. we can forgive them however often can not forget them. Thanks for the great post!! Way to go Jennifer!!

    1. Thanks, Carla. I know exactly how you feel! I like what you said about forgive but not forget…more kids need to learn this from their parents, instead of from the reaction to what they say.

  4. Great post. I learned the hard way – speaking the first thing that came to mind and hurting feelings – and I’m not that kind of person. I am sarcastic though and have that kind of wit – so you never know how that is perceived in writing so I try to be very careful. I just went back to school and got my BA in Communications a few years ago. By then I had already learned to be more tactful but I did learn some more beneficial ways to communicate properly in different situations.

  5. My son graduates from high school two weeks from today. He’s consistently been praised by faculty and administration for his ability to communicate well. It does seem that the art of communicating well is being lost. 140 character tweets, facebook status updates and texts with smiley faces don’t really get it done.

    Thanks for another inspiring post. I agree with Becca Walsh-Wolfe, it’s among your best! (Still partial to the statue where we first “met.”)

  6. This is your best post yet, in my opinion! And on the flip side, always keep an open mind in terms of what you think you are hearing from another person, because for the reasons you outlined (along with so many others) you may be hearing/receiving something very different from what the person communicating intended!

  7. You speak the truth 😀 A lot of people are not taught to communicate effectively, or worse, communicate at all! Here in the Philippines, we’d rather keep our feelings to ourselves rather than say something- of course, that doesn’t go for every single Filipino, but it may be a shared trait which foreigners notice.

    1. Anne, that’s interesting to hear. And of course, there are cultures where the exact opposite is true-where people share EVERYTHING! Thanks for the insight.

  8. Yes this is so true, there are many ways to communicate, my kids are have different personalities and they communicate in all different ways. We need to also remember that communication is through talking/body language ect.

  9. I also teach and agree there are many ways to communicate. I have several autistic students who don’t understand facial expression or body language so it’s very important that I try and teach them how to read those as well as the words people are saying. I think so many people take reading body language for granted. I also think way too many people communicate via text/e-mail these days and we lose the person to person communication.

    1. Heather, you are so correct. We really need to consider our new modes of communication and all the issues they bring up for our kids-they are the ones who create the new rules of tomorrow!

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