I want to talk about communication. Specifically, I want to talk about poor communication. See, I have a confession to make. I am a poor communicator.
I have been public speaking since I was in the first grade. At least that is the earliest I remember speaking in public. I did it on such a regular basis for such a long time that after awhile I stopped preparing speeches and basically improvized every talk I was asked to give.
In High School, I was on the debate team for three years. I had a very accomplished senior year, winning a tournament, coing in second at another and placing at a few more.
People also tell me that I am a good writer. Frankly, I have a hard time believing this to be the case. It stems from my own tendency to underestimate my abilities as well as the fact that I see all of my own bad habits up close and personal.
The problem is that for all of this time I assumed that possessing this skills made me a good communicator. What I have since come to realize is that in many ways I am a very poor communicator.
Things like debate, giving speeches and the type of writing that I do most often all have one thing in common. I can work with factual information. I am good at the type of communication that involves giving people factual information. In fact, for someone with a visual impairment, I give really good directions when I know where someone needs to go.
When I say I am a poor communicator I mean it in the sense of sharing my feelings, opinions and beliefs with other people. I’ve always been bad at expressing my desires and what I want. I’m bad it this in part because I often struggle to understand exactly what it is that I want in the first place. If I don’t know what I want, how can I be expected to share that information with someone else? Even in this paragraph, I have given you a factual statement which is that I don’t know what I want and thus can’t tell others. I have not told you about how I feel about this statement of fact.
I’m going to talk a little bit about the last girl I dated. I’m going to talk about it because it is a perfect illustration of how there is more than one way to be bad at communicating and in particular my own weaknesses.
The girl was great. She is smart, pretty, fun to be around and we had a good chemestry I thought. However, she also possesses poor communication skills. I’m not going to say that one of us was worse than the other because we both had different problems and it is tough to compare.
She could go for long periods of time without talking. Leave her a voice mail and she doesn’t return your call even if you give her specific information as to why you need to talk. She does not return text messages in a timely matter if at all. So engaging her in conversation was quite difficult. Yet, when she did engage she was articulate, thoughtful, wise, funny and clear in her beliefs. That’s why even though long conversations were rare with us I always enjoyed them.
Ironically, in the relationship I was in prior to her, I assumed this same exact role. I was the one who kept to myself a lot of the time, did not engage in direct communication very often but when I did I could be very expressive. I think I flipped in part because I saw how being so distant had hurt that relationship. I became less expressive because in that previous relationship, when I did express myself, it backfired on me a fair number of times. I flipped on both accounts to prevent myself from getting hurt and hurting someone else. You’ll not be surprised to learn that this was a failure.
In contrast to her, I could talk to her for hours if given the chance. But for as long as I could talk to a person I would always be guarded in my answers. I could tell them stories that were both true and funny, I could share my experiences with living with a visual impairment but I did not express my feelings. If you are a fan of the TV series ‘The Big Bang Theory’ there are a lot of ways in which I feel I am very similar to Sheldon.
As someone with a visual impairment there is another difficulty I have with communication. I cannot interpret nonverbal expressions. If someone looks mad at me, I don’t know that unless I detect something in their tone of voice or words that they use. The same is true if I am making them happy. When you are used to communicating with people who do pick up on those signals you don’t necessarily go out of your way to let someone who can’t interpret your signals know what they’re missing.
But that only goes in one direction. I believe that I would make a poor poker player because I give things away with my body language. So when someone asks me if I am displeased with them it is because they can see displeasure in my face or posture. Yet when I answer that question by saying “I’m fine” they feel as though I am lying to them and in a way, I am though not intentionally. I just do not express the things I’m showing well on my face in words.
The final date that she and I went on is a prime example of what can happen when two people who stink at communicating have their communication styles collide. We were supposed to go to ‘The Lego Movie’ on a Sunday at 4 PM. She had suggested the movie time and I had no problem agreeing. This was going to be the first thing we’d done since Valentine’s Day which was 16 days earlier.
So Sunday comes around and at 3 PM I started to get ready. I got in the shower, dressed nicely, put on cologne and basically put my best foot forward. Then I got a text telling me that we would have to go at 7 PM because she was going out to eat with her parents.
I was furious! Actually, I was beyond furious, I was absolutely livid. I was not upset that she wanted to spend time with her parents, let me make that clear. While I don’t know her dad all that well, her mom was and is someone I really like and we had known each other for years. In fact, she had a hand in us getting together in the first place. So while I wasn’t displeased that she wanted to spend time with her parents, I did have a couple of issues.
The first is that I hadn’t seen her since Valentine’s Day. I felt like she had just told me that her parents were more important than me because even though she hadn’t seen them in a few days, she’d seen them a lot more recently than she had seen me. Also, she told me about the change at the very last minute and there was no question about whether or not I had other plans for after the movie. She never considered that after the movie I might want to take her to dinner.
You don’t need to be a master of the obvious to know what I did next. I got out of my nice clothes, I went to the store and got some groceries and I spent until the time she was to pick me up for the movie strongly considering blowing it off entirely. I obviously did not tell her how I felt about her last minute change of plans.
When she arrived, I went and changed in to my nice clothes for the second time that day. I did not say much of anything to her until I handed her some free movie passes I had. There was no welcoming hug or kiss or anything of the sort. In fact, I barely said a word as we drove to the theater. I was more talkative after the film because I was entertained and it put me in better spirits. But still, I said nothing about the issue from earlier.
We broke up a few weeks later. She had called me and asked if we could talk because she had some questions for me. I had expressed some annoyance with not having heard from her in awhile on Facebook and that word got back to her. So I attempted to call her back so we could talk. I tried several times over the period of a few days before leaving her a voice mail breaking it off.
Well, what she didn’t know was that I had actually been frustrated with not being able to get hold of her because I was ready to come clean. We had dated off and on for almost two years and in that time I never really opened up to her about my past. I had decided that I had nothing to lose by getting some things off my chest. I had also decided that I was going to resolve to be better at communicating my feelings and the first step was going to be to come clean about the movie incident.
I held back on sharing a lot of that information with her because I was worried about how she might react. I’ve never been very confident when it came to women. So part of me was afraid that if I expressed even slight displeasure in our relationship that she would break up with me. But also, I could never be sure if my feelings were right or not. I was furious about what happened that day we were supposed to go to the movie but a part of me said that if I just gave it some time I would calm down and see that it wasn’t that big a deal.
I was wise to let myself calm down so that I cold hold the worst of what I was thinking and wanted to say in check. However, I assumed that because I had been able to calm myself down that I should never have been upset in the first place.
I’ve always been really guarded when it came to feelings. I never once acted on a Middle school, High School or college crush, I was too afraid of being rejected. One of the girls I had a crush on was one of the nicest people I had ever met and I still tell her that from time to time today. If I had told her that I had a crush on her (although I hated that term so probably would have tried a different phrasing) and she had rejected me it probably would have been the kindest let down ever. Still, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So if you’re reading this Kerry Horton, yes, I’m talking about you and now you know the truth. I’m not saying I regret keeping all of my crushes to myself but I do regret that one. I’m not going to tell Kerry this is here I’ll just see if she finds it on her own.
As I said yesterday I am trying to write more often to become more expressive. I’m hoping that if I can start to express my thoughts and feelings better in writing that I will have an easier time expressing them verbally. I figure that it is harder for me to express myself in writing anyway, I want to do a podcast because I enjoy talking more than writing, so if I can get a better grip on expressing myself in the written word, my verbal expression of feelings should improve by default.
If all goes well, I’ll have a book review tomorrow. I’ve been reading ‘Yes!: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania’ by Daniel Bryan and it is pretty good. I also intend to write a little bit about the subject of depression in the next couple of days. So won’t that be fun?