Communications Patterns and Styles
One of my favorite things to do is, not necessarily intentionally but generally, is to observe how people communicate. Whether with me or with others, there are patterns that become apparent. Maybe I am the only one that notices them, but I doubt it.
Sometimes I feel like I am doing mathematical equations in my head as I look for the patterns, and the patterns provide a lot of insight. These are my observations, not scientific in any fashion.
When people first become friends and begin communicating they need to have a very high frequency and over multiple channels (channels would be phone, text, IM, other messaging services). This is the time after two new friends just meet (establish a relationship) and they communicate ALL the time. This is when people learn about each other, so there is lots of interest, excitement, and enthusiasm.
As people move past the “wow you’re interesting” stage of their relationship, they slip into the comfortable level of communication. The interesting part of this is when one person gets there before the other. There is the high probability of one person annoying the hell out of the other. This can rapidly breakdown in the relationship. The biggest problem at this point in the communication style is realizing you have chosen to be friends with this person for a reason, and may be time to have a conversation about the “communication incompatibility”. Misunderstanding can easily occur at this point if, ironically, communications aren’t clear. Avoidance of issues never works, confrontation doesn’t work, clear and straightforward is the key. Clearly stating your communication needs, or objectives is always smart.
When Bad Communication Happens
There are times in all our lives where we have chosen to deal with someone we prefer not to “deal” with by avoiding communications. In 1985, I set up an answering machine on my phone line specifically to record poignant and snarky out-going answering machine messages for my friends (and a boyfriend) at the time. My phone rang all day long as my friends shared the amusing messages with each other. The original intent of the machine was to break up with a boyfriend. I had already cut nearly all communication (we used online messages via a BBS to write to each other, and spoke often). So avoidance worked. What I never considered what that by avoiding the straightforward approach, and telling him that I was no longer interested and it was time to move on, that I probably didn’t give him, the relationship, or me the respect that any of us deserved. I never did that again, to anyone.
Intentional/Unintentional vs. Conscious/Subconscious
I have observed this behavior in people quite frequently recently. The method is different now. It is the avoidance of people’s communications, selective responses, and the “I am way too busy”. Sometimes this happens unintentionally – for instance, as I often tell my friends, keep poking at me if I don’t reply to something, it probably got buried in my in-box (with 1200+ unread messages it happens, and I relay on the Blackberry too much). Sometimes this happens subconsciously. The patterns are still evident, or obvious, if you choose to look.
Communication is about communicating, and more often than not in todays culture we don’t see that happening. I notice I communicate a lot on Twitter and Facebook, to the point where I sometimes think – “did I share that information with my husband yet? Did I tell him about this?” I am communicating with so many people in so many different ways about so many different things I start to forget what I told who.
Straight to the Point
I notice patterns, whether they are there intentionally or not. We all have the easy way out of some obligations by not returning communications, in business and in personal relationships. The problem is that sometimes that choice reflects on who we are. Am I proud of what I did in 1985? No. Did I ever do it again? No. I respect people too much, and that is probably part of the reason I am so straight-forward. Although some things should not be said via email or phone, so it is tougher when you have those messages to convey, this is probably where the avoidance comes in.
Straightforward works for me, most of the time, I just don’t want to be bothered with games and have so many other things to do. I have been working on bolstering my “strong chick” a bit lately, and in doing so have read a few interesting things that speak to why people would do this. I think it is a lack of compassion for others.
Compassion is listening, and caring, knowing your friends and reading what they need. Understanding what they are communicating and why. This is more often than not about reading between the lines. If they complain about general things, you may need to drill down to the root of what is bothering them. It is in asking the questions and showing the compassion that the relationship grows. If your friend tells you something has happened, or they are not feeling well, and you dismiss that – does that show compassion? No, that shows you don’t care, or are possibly too self-involved to notice. We all have those moments, but it is when the pattern of the behavior becomes apparent that it is more obviously to be read as “I don’t really care, or can’t be bothered”. Be compassionate in your communications. Just going through the motions and not meaning it – that is transparent to most people. Not showing they care enough to pick up on the subtle cues, when an event happens, an illness, and injury, that is when a true friend will say “How are you? Tell me more”. The most interesting is when you see this pattern in people who are communicators – hypocrisy perhaps or are they just not aware?
What is NOT Communicated
Sometimes it isn’t what is communicated; it is what is not communicated. If that isn’t the message you want to convey, you might want to take the time to express that to whomever you are communicating with. We are all busy, but relationships take effort – reaching out to say “Hey, still here, haven’t forgotten, catch up soon” is something we all can do. The follow-up is also key – when you say that, deliver, or you lose credibility, and that is ALL any of us has in life; your name; your reputation; and your credibility. Excuses can only be made so many times before they are dismissed and interpreted by the other party. It is after all about building relationships, right? True friends don’t care, but true friends also know that the compassion is in the relationship – these are your low-maintenance friends. The ones I prefer are low maintenance, which I usually am, except when I see a pattern. I can’t stop poking at patterns to test them. Yes, I am giving away state secrets now – but hey, transparency right? It is amazing how often I am hurt and disappointed in my “friends”. (High and Low Maintenance friends is a blog post to come I think)
I wonder how many people are guilty of the same sort of communication avoidance. A better question may be who is willing to admit that they have done any of the above things to their friends?