A Failure to Communicate? Caution!

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” – Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke (1967)Image

Good communication is so easy it’s hard to even pinpoint exactly what makes it work. What’s easier to spot is when it’s missing.

When you have messy communication with someone you know it. Confusion is the modus operandi. These days, this usually manifests as someone who you can’t manage to reach in person or by phone.

While many of us rely on Facebook, email and chatting to maintain connections, there are times when talking is essential. Good friends know this. If they see a couple missed calls from you, they call back. If you ask to meet, they find a time to meet or at least talk on the phone and explain if and when they can meet. They don’t ignore you.

In contrast, those with whom you have a failure to communicate, have reasons that talking isn’t possible now. What follows is a series of chats, that often fans the fires of confusion. You suddenly feel that you must appear needy, and that you are bothering them and begging for attention, then second-guessing all your interactions.

When I find myself in this situation, I pause. A red “CAUTION” sign begins flashing. The CAUTION sign is to check and see if I am somehow re-creating the communication failures of my childhood.

We all have them. And communication failures are in fact, some failure to express, receive or understand love.

I was born the seventh, and followed closely by my little sister, and in total we made eight kids in our Catholic family. It’s not hard to guess what life was like for me and my younger sister. There was a kind of natural chaos, a feeling of being lost in the crowd, and a fear of being teased or bothered by older brothers, with little one-to-one parent time.

So, now, when I find myself in a relationship where I feel a lot of confusion, where it feels I almost have to beg for a phone call or reply to a text message, I pause.

I used to think the main thing to do was to figure out why the person communicates this way. That is, why does a supposedly close friend, ignore phone calls and messages, as well as requests to talk and meet. Some will tell you this person is a narcissist, has a fear of intimacy, or some unhealed emotional trauma. Or, maybe it’s just a different communication style, or a different set of cultural or societal priorities. It is their problem, and perhaps not a problem at all …for them.

The important question is,

“Am I recreating a communication problem that I learned (and thus thought was normal) as a child?”

Comparing the easy communication you have with some people will reassure you about what healthy communication feels like. From that base, you can post your own CAUTION sign on the relationships that often feel confusing and stressful. Then ask, does this resemble a problem of my early childhood.

If the answer is yes, you know that there is some more healing to be done. Lean in to your healthy relationships and away from the stressful ones. Study the experiences and learn: what did you overlook or ignore, how can you avoid a similar situation in the future. And finally forgive yourself and the other person, and with a light heart, accept it as a learning experience.

This technique helps me put the responsibility for easy communication firmly where it belongs: with me.

Love is an infinite resource. There is plenty to go around and we never need to beg for it. We don’t need to tether ourselves to relationships hallmarked by a failure to communicate.

Being on the lookout for good communicators and making room for healthy relationships, puts me in a dependable flow of love.

In the last couple weeks, I made a few new friends in my town here in Korea. They asked about hiking, then we went. They said they would call, and they did. We went out for a meal and then a walk. We chat, hang out, talk on the phone and life is easy.

And they remind me, love is easy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s