Two things that most people I meet think they do well naturally: sex and communication. Truthfully, everyone needs some practice doing both of these things. The good news is that the more practice, the better you get. Regardless if you are an utter novice or a master, there is always some room to improve. And both require appropriate lubrication. Dry communication is just uncomfortable.
Communication is not just about words.
One thing that I’ve been fighting with myself lately is losing my vocabulary. I have had a lifelong love of words, and I love to find opportunities to take my vocabulary out and utterly unleash it. Words have a wonderful flavor, and subtle differences in meaning are beautiful. Both as an instructor and as a student, I value clarity, brevity, and organization. And not everyone is going to be able to get it the first time around.
One of the first barriers is the words themselves. Overuse of jargon and different experiences (and misuse) of words make mutual understanding more difficult. And technology isn’t necessarily making our lives better either. I have had to send back any number of emails to my students because they couldn’t write a clear message (texting and autocorrect: I hate you). But the good news is that it isn’t just about words. Ever notice how dialogue in books never works the way real conversations do?
Research shows that less than half of face-to-face communication is actually accomplished with words. Facial expressions, tone, intonation, rhythm, and body language mean more to us than words. As a teacher, symbols and infographics are also important… because it is often easier to follow a flowchart than just describing a process. For me as a teacher I don’t like to move on until I have expressed an idea in three different ways and reinforced the concept (e.g. writing a concept, talking about a concept, demonstrating the concept, and then restating it again…). Attitudes can be an important tool, or barrier as well. It is easier to listen to someone if you think they will listen to you – lectures aren’t fun, but conversations can be.
Okay, I’m sounding dry to myself now… so back to sex.
If you are paying attention to your partner’s body language, you can do not just what you want to do, but what you both want to do. If both of you aren’t feeling the process, then you need to adjust. Less friction, more friction, harder, gentler, do what you need, give me harder examples, wait, explain that more, that was scary and I want you to do it again. Please.
Intentional and unintentional communication
We are social creatures, and we are constantly looking for more information. One of the things that I find as teacher is I need to be very careful about when I feel impatient or frustrated with the progress of my class (or a specific student)…. I just can’t disguise my feelings, and that hurts my students when they feel it is directed at them.
Patience isn’t just a virtue, it is an utter necessity.
As with everything, it goes both ways. Students don’t know how easy they are to read: it is a simple matter to tell whether a class gets something or they don’t. One dirty trick I like to use: when you can tell that they don’t get it, pick one of the most obviously confused students and see if they can explain things back to you. This is scary for the student, but very illuminating for the class.
Communication is not everything
One thing that pisses me off is when people say “communication is the key to good relationships.” And then they stop, like this is a self-evident or complete statement. It isn’t.
Communication, whether it is explicit or implicit is a great starting point for any kind of relationship. But it needs more than just intention, it needs commitment, practice, action and energy. I’ve known too many people who talk a good game, but never deliver. Both as a teacher, and in my private life.
On the other hand, explicit communication is also one of the scariest things we can do in relationships. Even praise can be scary.
So go forth, and use your new powers for evil.