I was having a conversation with a friend of mine not too long ago. She had something very important to tell me that she felt I should know. I always welcomed a conversation from her, so I insisted she continued. She hesitated. This seemed to be something important yet awkward and embarrassing. She always seemed to me to hold back, and I wanted to help her be more open and communicate better. I insisted she continue. She became frustrated, unwilling to talk, and left without saying what she had to say. I ask now, who was the one who failed at communication?
From people you don’t know to the person who means everything to you, communication is the heart of all relationships. If one person cannot talk to another, then nothing can work out. The problem is, it is not as easy as it sounds. It’s not just about talking. In fact, the most important parts of communication is listening.
We all want to be listened to. Everyone wants to feel that someone else cares about what they are saying. I remember being a child, informing adults about things I considered to be very important. In response they would always say halfheartedly, “Oh, that’s nice.” It drove me crazy that what I was saying seemed pointless.
Returning to my friend, I continued to push in later conversations on instant messaging. I agitated her to the point that she didn’t want to talk to me at all. I was pushing so hard that I was actually preventing communication. When I realized this, I pulled back and let silence take over.
Silence sometimes proves to help communication. It gives everyone a chance to pause, reflect, and try again. If a conversation goes horribly wrong, it’s almost impossible to salvage on the spot. Yet our instinct is to try. We want it to stay alive, but we just make it worse. Sometimes, the silence is the only thing that can fix it.
Finally, when she was ready, she explained what it was she wanted to say. This to was a humbling experience in communication skills. It seemed I had misunderstood something she had said earlier. I had made a horrible mistake that was impeding further communication. I had taken certain statements, actions, and behaviors of hers to imply something that was completely false. I never sought her out directly to make sure I was right. I simply followed the assumption and moved on with life, not realizing that this assumption was horribly wrong. To truly communicate, we must pass beyond these types of miscommunications.
The resolution to this story has not come. Currently, this communication failure has resulted in a falling out between us. All this time, I thought I was trying to help her communicate better. Nevertheless, the reverse proved true. I failed to take my own advice. I failed to use communication to save the relationship, and so it ended.
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