Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why We Stink At Communicating

You talkin’ to me?!

There are a zillion books written about communication skills. Why? Don’t we know how to talk to one another by now? The answer seems to be a resounding “No.”

Despite record amounts of visits to therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, marriage counselors, corporate coaches, and guidance counselors, our society, one that communicates 24-7 for pleasure, business, or necessity, sucks at the art of communicating.

We each believe the problem rests with the other side. We each think we communicate clearly, often, and pleasantly. The truth is it takes two for a proper conversation to take place but few of us have exchanges that go off as intended or as well as we think they did.

What’s the root cause to this problem that invades the workplace, bedroom, or the line at McDonald’s? The world moves too fast for us to keep up. Our communications have decreased in quality, in proportion to our reliance on technological tools. But we can’t blame busy lives and Twitter for failing at communicating, though they play significant factors.

Let’s look at 10 reasons why we may not be so successful at conveying our intentions, ideas, needs, desires, and concerns:

1.      Communication requires that we listen to one another. Now more than ever, we talk at each other and no one listens. Just look at our use of social media - we make announcements and send out a lot of information but are we participating in a give-and-take dialog?

2.      Depending on our emotional state and mood, we may not come off as polite as we should -- nor may we be in a state of mind to give people the benefit of the doubt in an exchange of words.

3.      Time is a factor. We scamper through things, not fully reading an email or paying attention to what one says to us. Further, we rush what we have to say to another, perhaps at the expense of important details.

4.      Some people are just too sensitive. Stop being so sensitive! Sometimes people tell a joke or make a mistake or really didn’t mean the way something sounded. Get over it.

5.      Be aware of your position in the relationship and the setting in which you communicate. For instance, you’d talk differently to a 4-year-old than you would a 14-year-old and you’d talk differently to a colleague versus a boss versus a client versus a spouse versus your mom -- right? And you act one way privately, another in the public, do you not? Just be aware of the boundaries and demands of the situation you communicate under.

6.      When you screw up, apologize. Why bother arguing?

7.      We all use email buy sometimes a phone call will save you lots of problems. Even better, use face-to-face meetings to inject some personal humanity into the conversation.

8.      Try to be aware of the needs, expectations, desires, concerns, fears and mental state of the person you are communicating with. You become a better communicator when you assume what it feels like to be them.

9.      Some crappy communication happens due to cultural differences. You are not speaking the same language even if you think you are. Body language, cultural references, personal values and one’s experiences play a role in how we convey or interpret an idea or state of mind. It’s easy to misinterpret or misread another -- or to make wrongful assumptions.

10.  We are limited by our diversified experiences, education and knowledge. The less common ground we have, the more likely a conflict arises.

You know, we can all go on and on to make this list 100+ reasons-long on why we fail to communicate. I can’t tell you how often someone mistreats another because they clouded their judgment with preconceived notions or misperceptions. I also can’t tell you how often my wife and I think we each said the opposite thing when we shout directives from one floor of our house to the other. It happens -- whether you love, or hate someone -- that communicating with them can have many hurdles.

The key is to minimize the number of misfires and to mitigate the level of miscommunication. Its one thing to think someone didn’t hear you, or misheard you; it’s another to think the person ignored you or said something negative.

Do your best to improve the two-way street of communication, but be prepared to accept some potholes on every corner.

Interview With Author Rhys Bowen

1. What type of books do you write? I write historical mysteries. Two series, The Molly Murphy mysteries, set in early 1900s New York City and featuring an Irish immigrant sleuth and The Royal Spyness books, a lighter series about a member of the royal family in 1930s England. My books have made the New York Times bestseller list and won many awards.
2. What is your latest or upcoming book about? My latest book in the Molly Murphy series came out in March. It's called HUSH NOW, DON'T YOU CRY, and the story takes place in the "cottages" in Newport Rhode Island. A powerful Irishman has summoned his family to the cottage in October, hopelessly out of season, and invited Molly's husband, police captain Daniel Sullivan, to be there are the same time. They arrive in a thunderstorm and the lightning illuminates a child's face in an upstairs window. But it seems there is no child in the house. A sense of foreboding, a feeling that the house is haunted, hangs over Molly. Then the homeowner is found sprawled at the foot of a cliff. Why had he summoned his family? What had he wanted to tell them? And whose face had Molly seen? 

3. What inspired you to write it? I felt like writing a story with a gothic feel to it. It's the eleventh book in the series and I like to take Molly out of New York sometimes. It was interesting to focus on an Irishman who has been very successful for a change.
4. What did you do before you became an author? Grew up. Went to school.  I've been writing professionally since I sold my first short story at 16. But I did work in BBC drama after college, before writing my own radio and TV plays.
5. How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? I have written many books in different genres all my life but I still get a thrill when I spot one of my books on a shelf, or better yet, in an airport! Struggling writers? Know what you are writing. Study what those already published in the genre are writing. Read a lot. Then write the best book you can. Don't ever write what you think will be a best seller. Trends come and go quickly. Good literature endures. 

6. Where do you see book publishing heading? We're in an interesting time and a worrying one too. Self publishing is now a viable option for writers. This is terrific in many ways but also concerning. A self published book on Amazon hasn't gone through the layers of editing and vetting that a traditionally published writer has to go through. Some of them are really poor quality and may well turn off potential readers. I'm not sure where this will end up. Will it mean the end of publishing as we know it? Perhaps. The end of paper books? There is already a huge shift. A year ago my e-book sales were about one tenth of my total sales. Now they are close to half.

What Advice Would I Give A Struggling Writer?

by Writer and Illustrator Gary Raham
Author of 17 titles of science fact and/or science fiction
Former Co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI, Rocky Mountain Region

1.)  Enjoy the process
Make sure that crafting words and telling compelling stories matters to you. Realize that this enjoyment has to be self-fulfilling, because you may or may not reach a receptive audience in your lifetime. If you are compelled to write, place that task at the top of your to-do list. Carve out a few minutes daily, a few hours weekly and write.

2.)  Find your peers and share
Find or build a group of writers sympathetic to your writing passion at approximately your skill level and share your work. Everybody learns; everybody feels the pain—and also gets some strokes. Also, find local writer’s networks of a larger size that can provide more training and opportunities to share. (Examples: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators [SCBWI], Science Fiction Writers & Illustrators of America [SFWA], etc.) Volunteer your skills and talents and make connections. This can be hard for the focused introverts among you, but valuable.

3.)  Know your craft and stretch yourself
Daily writing and networking will place you in the path of onrushing opportunity. Make sure that the quality of your skills is sharp and ready for any sudden collisions with recognition and publication. Survival and success after impact will largely depend on the strength of your talent, preparation, and determination. Once you experience a measure of success, stretch yourself. Reacquaint yourself with that original joy in the process of learning to wield the power and beauty of language in new and different ways.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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