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Sunday 25 January 2015

Talk It Out

Use Your Words.

That's something my house mate Heather is fond of saying. I personally believe that if we - as a species - communicated better with each other, then we'd all see an improvement in our day to day lives.

I play tabletop role-playing games a lot, and they teach the benefit of communication - both in a combat situation and in more social scenarios. Think I'm kidding? When you've spent your third round stood behind the guy in a doorway, and he just won't move his heavily armoured ass so you can deploy righteous fury against the demons RIGHT THERE, you will know that communication is key.

Real-life communication is important, too. The succinct, efficient conveyance of information isn't a skill that everyone possesses - but you sure as hell notice when someone can't (or doesn't) do it.

An example: Person A asks Person B a question. Person B responds, with a lot of information - possibly too much - but none of that information actually answers the question. I'm fairly convinced everyone has been Person A in this situation at least once.

The problem is, Person B is fairly convinced they have conveyed all the information necessary to answer Person A's enquiry. They're wrong, of course - and this is indicative of a lack of communication skills.

A further example: Person A asks Person B a question. Person B responds appropriately. Person A asks essentially the same question again, but phrased slightly differently. Person B - again - responds appropriately. Person A asks a third question, still essentially the same - provoking Person B's (understandable) ire.

Person A's problem is the information they're looking for isn't actually the answer to the question they are asking. Being unable to ask the right question to get the information one wants? Another indicator of poor communication skills.

In social situations, this can cause difficulty and frustration - but in work situations it can actually cost money.

If someone in a management position can't convey their requirements properly, efficiency gets shot to pieces. When you bring a piece of work or reporting to their desk for the third time and it's given back to you, you want to know why it's not good enough. "It just needs to be more...something," won't help anyone at all. It engenders anger and resentment - a certain then why don't you do it attitude. In essence, this is justified. If they can't tell you what they want but they apparently know what they want, then they're the only ones who can achieve their goals.

How to counter poor communication skills? It's unfortunately one of those problems that can only be fixed if the sufferer wants it to be fixed. Often people don't realise that their shoddy Diplomacy score is actually causing them problems, and often telling them as much isn't enough.

However, if you DO recognise these symptoms in yourself:
  • Friends always asking for clarification on things you say.
  • Instructions you feel were suitably clear regularly not being followed.
  • People not appearing to listen to you.
  • Peers finding your stories and jokes hard to follow.
Then perhaps those skills could do with a brush-up, and a good place to start - think about the words you're about to use. Are you about to deliver an anecdote in order to explain what should only need two sentences? Is what you're about to say vague or obtuse enough that confusion is likely? If someone said to you what you are about to say to them, would you really grasp what you're trying to say?

Of course, it's not purely that easy; even if you are capable of talking to people, another important skill is knowing when you should. A lot of problems don't get talked about - problems that could be solved very simply by just being straight and tackling it directly. Society is filled with scenarios where people get scared of saying their piece, without realising that not doing so will actually make things worse.

If you can't talk honestly with your partner about something that bothers you, that's symptomatic of further problems in a relationship. If you can't talk honestly with your friends about something, then you perhaps need to reassess just what is going on in that particular friendship. If you can't ask your house mates to not use the last piece of toilet roll, then wow, you need to get your shit together.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is no replacement for actual communication. Hinting won't get you what you want either - they are by nature easy to misinterpret or miss entirely. Say what you mean, say what you need to say. Sometimes it's the only way you can get what you want or need.

But do you need to say what you are about to say? This may run counter to the last few paragraphs - but productive conversation and honest requests are different to gossip and general hostility. There's a time and a place for pissing and moaning. Learning where that time and place is, is unfortunately a life skill that can't be easily conveyed in a humble blog such as mine. All I can say is what my dad said to me, one of the best lessons he ever taught me:

Pick Your Battles.

That requires awareness. Knowing when you should and shouldn't requires thoughtfulness. Know yourself, your weaknesses, strengths and predilections. Knowing something about the person or people you are talking to is useful, too. One of Sun Tzu's most famed pieces of wisdom is that if you know your enemy and yourself, you will be undefeated in a hundred battles; this is as true in war as it is in peace.

A little extra thoughtfulness in life can't hurt anyone. Who knows? It could lead to better performance in team and role-playing games, in the work environment, and an easier time amongst friends and loved ones. Take it from someone who used to have serious anxiety issues with talking to friends, let alone strangers - that little thought can make things a hell of a lot easier for all involved.

Your voice and your words are powerful tools. Like any powerful tool, they need to be used properly to get the best out of them.

Good talk.

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