Friday, September 22, 2017

Part of the Process

There are times when even I surprise myself. For instance, when I am home out of public view or in my car out of the public ear, every so often I will let loose with a tirade of vile and offensive jabber that most anyone would find to be insulting. Usually during those moments my outburst is triggered by something or someone that has upset me. My vocal explosion is a way of venting the negative feelings I am having. I purposefully blast away in that manner beyond public scrutiny to avoid offending any one or from making anyone think I am a real, shall we say, jerk. Also, I do not want anything thinking I am something I am not. In heart and mind, I am not how I might sound at those times; nor does the sentiments I express accurately true feelings or beliefs. I express them to release my frustration as part of a process I sometimes use to help formulate thoughts that really do reflect my inner thinking and attitude.

This brings me to a video currently making the rounds on You Tube. It is about ten minutes of MSNBC commentator Lawrence O'Donnell having an off camera meltdown over something going on in the control room of his set. Unfortunately for O'Donnell, his tirade was caught on film. To say the least, O'Donnell does not come across very well. (Neither would I or, I suspect, any one caught in the throes of a tantrum or meltdown.) Other public figures have had the same thing happen to them. Bill O'Reilly is one example that comes to mind. Their outbursts were filmed and taped without their knowledge. I concede that watching such things may be fun. At the same time, I caution any of us to judge O'Donnell, O'Reilly and others caught in an unguarded moment too harshly. Like it or not, at times none of us share our feelings in ways that are honorable. I say that not as an excuse, but as a reminder of a reality that is all of us. Every so often we all a need a chance to communicate poorly on our intended way to communicate more properly. It is part of the process.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Original," Not "Regular"

It seemed an ordinary enough thing to do: order a box of popcorn at the movies. I told the person behind the counter what I wanted and he replied, "What kind?" My response seemed straightforward enough, "Regular." This is where things got complicated. "We don't have that." he said. I looked behind him and could easily see they had plenty of what I wanted. "Yes, you do," I said. I pointed to what I wanted and said, "That." He turned, looked at to what I was pointing and said, "Oh, you want original popcorn." I confess to being a bit taken aback but finally nodded and said, "Yes, I want original."

This innocent little exchange took less than two minutes but in that time a common obstacle to smooth and effective communication was very much on display. The salesperson and I were not familiar with each other's terminology. We knew what we meant but I did not know his meaning nor did he know mine even though we were both talking about the same thing. Our mistake was that neither one of us took the time to learn the other's language. We simply assumed the word we attached to a certain kind of popcorn was universal. As it turned out, the assumption each of us made was wrong.

This is a particular issue when persons from different cultures attempt to communicate without first making any kind of effort to learn the other's language. The result is they often get trapped or sidetracked over otherwise simple blips. The result often ranges from mutual frustration to needlessly wasted time to costly or even failed effort. In my case, I was lucky in that I was finally able to acquire my popcorn and then enjoy my movie in the way I like best. But others are not always so fortunate. Being successful in another culture often requires preparation and accepting the reality that how we might converse is not always how others talk.

Friday, September 15, 2017


Recognition - the positive kind - is always welcomed. Who among us does not enjoy a pat on the back? And when it happens in front of others, often times that makes it all the more sweet. I mention this because just recently my blog was named as one of the top 30 blogs on communication on the entire Internet by Feedspot. In fact, to be exact, it was ranked number 7. I am as pleased at this as I was surprised when I learned of this unexpected honor. Thank you, Feedspot. I began doing this blog in 2008 as a simple venue in which I could talk about a subject of extreme importance to me. I had no expectations as to what kind of or how much of an audience I would attract. Even now, I have no idea as to the size of my readership.

Still, I love the fact that the topic of communication remains worthy of such public assessment and interest. It is a vital topic and act that often determines the difference between successful and unsuccessful interaction. Despite that, its level of importance continues not to be as embraced by the general public as well as it should. The reason, in my view, is simple. Any one can do it, so, the reasoning goes, what's the big deal? Big deal indeed. Show me a sucessful marriage and I will show you two people who communicate well. Show me effective interaction between a doctor and a patient and I will show you two successful communicators. And so it goes.

Communication spells the difference between happiness and resentment, inclusion and exclusion, and   engagement and isolation. There is simply too much at stake for us not to take communication seriously as a social science and act between individuals and groups. The fact "Why Communication Matters" is part of that makes me proud. Who knows? Maybe the nearly one thousand entries have even helped make a difference is some one's life. That's a nice thought. Either way, I plan to keep doing what I can in the name of a topic that remains bigger than any of us.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


One of the most difficult communication challenges for any of us is asking a favor of someone. If you ask a friend, it is awkward because you do not want someone you know thinking less of you. Having a need you need another to help you meet is a humbling experience. Most if not all of us do not like appearing any less than at the top of our game, particularly around those we know. The act of asking for a favor of those we know- and vice versa - compromises that perception. Asking a favor of one we do not know or know only slightly is still intimidating as it places us in a somewhat vulnerable position as well.

So, asking a favor is difficult under most any circumstance due to the negative feelings it often triggers. That aside, however, there ihewn other matter: the communication challenge itself. What is the best way to articulate the request? Do you come right out and state your request: "May I borrow your car?" Do you instead begin with an apology: "I'm sorry to bother you or I'm sorry to ask, but may I borrow your car?" Or do you begin with an explanation or lead: "Hi, my car is in the shop, may I borrow yours?" These are all viable ways to state your need but none of them is guaranteed to be successful.

Successfully gaining a favor often involves having a solid understanding of the person you are about to ask. Will they be receptive? Will they give me a hard time about asking? Do they even have what I need? Is this a good time to ask? None of these are necessarily easy questions to seek answers to. Consequently, one should never take asking for a favor granted. Gaining a favor often involves what many have termed "active listening." Know your audience. Anticipate questions you may be asked. Be prepared with pertinent information to support your request. Without question, favor-asking is a tough undertaking. But the good news is effective communication helps raise the chance of success.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Fellow Feeling

I confess to knowing about philosopher Max Scheler other than he exists. Actually, one other thing I know about him is a phrase he coined: fellow feeling. It strikes a chord with me because I believe it very much relates to communication. Such a description pertains to those moments when we feel we have connected with someone else or that we are on the same wave length with another. Does this mean we are in total agreement with that other person? To that, Scheler says, "no." In fact, "fellow feeling," according to its inventor, refers more to a recognition that another person has " a reality equal to our own."

At times, for many of us, that is not easy to do. For instance, we have a perspective on a particular issue and someone else sees that issue in a totally opposite way. In much of today's climate, we would respond to that differing opinion by calling its owner some sort of insulting name and then disregarding him or her as not worth listening to. I confess to being guilty of this. I concede that is not a good thing. Scheler would sit me down and point out the importance of one stepping outside their own ego and being more open to a kind of collective thinking. Does this mean we need give up on our own views and think like everyone else? No way. But what Scheler is suggesting is that we should strive to develop a deeper mutual understanding with others.

That brings me to effective communication. Ideally, as communicators, we must be better listeners and, as a result, gain a better grasp of how others think and feel rather than being quick to condemn on the simple basis another's view does not jive with ours. Is this easy to do? Heck no. Many important things, especially communication when it works, do not always come easily. But once a "fellow feeling" is embraced, then the next stop in the communication journey is mutual understanding.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The "Not-Self"

We are not alone. Nor, from all indications, do we want to be. In fact, it has been suggested, that not being alone is a good thing. By that, I am not referring to the physical act of being without company. Instead, as author Aldous Huxley observed: not being connected with things that are not one's self. More to the point, Huxley wrote, "...a man misses something by not establishing a participative and living relationship with the non-human world of animals and plants, landscapes and stars and seasons. By failing to be, vicariously, the not-self, he fails to be completely himself." In other words, one should actively embrace all that is around him.

Perhaps coincidentally another author of note, Albert Camus, wrote, "At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman." Taken together, the two are calling for all of us to communicate more effectively with all that is around us. Listen more intently. Observe more closely. What about that would any proponent of comunication oppose? How could focusing on our "not-self" be wrong? At the same time, communicating intensely with all that surrounds us is an intense way to get through the day. Talk about pressure.  Talk about intensity. Hyper-focusing in the manner suggested by Huxley and Camus, I concede, does seem like a bit much. After all, when would you have time for lunch?

One point about the reflections of Huxley and Cammus that I do like is a need for us to develop a greater sense of awareness of all that surrounds us. Awareness is the key. Daily, it seems, I see people passing by with their noses buried in their I-phone and not being aware of either me or others that have to step around them. The concept of not-self  is not something with which they are familiar, I would guess. Awareness? What's that? I say, "Look. Listen." It may not be total not-self but it is a step in the right direction.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Continuous Compromise

Does one ever truly get their way? Does one get what they want without some form or act of compromise? I think not. This, I believe, represents the ultimate challenge of communication. We speak. We put forth our logic and perspective in the hope that it will lead to agreement or, at least, compliance. But in putting forth what we think and eve want, do we ever do so without any regard for our audience, surroundings or the understand ability of our message? I see the answer as being "no." Each of our communications is not without some degree of removing even a sliver of what we intend.

This compromise is seen in the form of the wods we use and the manner in which we communicate them. Do we shout? Do we whisper? Do we use humor? Do we appeal to the audience's intellect or emotions? Each choice, though often our own, is a knowing decision to take one course or strategy over another. How can I say what I want to say in a way others will be open to? To answer that question is to compromise. To answer that question represents giving up some of that which we create. We make this choice as we recognize it as a way to a desired end. What is the point, we realize, of communicating if what we put forth is neighbor received well or understand?

All this is compromise. To communicate effectively requires an acknowledgement of another's word choices, level of knowledge, historical and cultural background, and intellectual and emotional state. The conclusion we draw from calculating these variables perfectly illustrates the act of giving up a little to get a lot as is defined by us. Simply put, we do this all the time. Continuous compromise. It is so ingrained within us that we compromise when we communicate without even realizing it. This does apply to professional communicators but to so-called "regular folks" as well.we may communicate what we want, but not without some attempt to do it in a way others want, too.