Navigating the Highway of Healthy Communication
By Stephen C. Schultz
“I was on the road in my car last week. It was a long stretch of highway where it is easy for your speed to creep up. I looked in the review mirror and saw blue and red flashing lights. I watched as the right hand of the officer extended to lift a microphone to his mouth. He was obviously running my plates. I glanced at my driver’s side mirror and observed as his door opened and he stepped around the edge of the door and closed it with a single, fluid motion. In a cautious and calculated manner, with his right hand resting about hip high on his revolver and his left hand carrying some paper, he was at my door in ten easy strides.”
Ok…now that you have read that first paragraph, what are you feeling? Did reading that stir any emotions? Could you relate to my experience? How many of you are smiling? You’ve been there…right? You know the feeling. Often there is dread. Sometimes there is fear. Most times there is frustration because you were just going with the flow of traffic. When you first see the lights, there is that sudden twinge in your stomach. Would you like to know what I was feeling?
I was happy! I was thrilled! I was relieved! My car happened to be broken down and I was sitting on the side of the road.
Now…that probably isn’t the response you were expecting. But, this article isn’t really about how we feel when interacting with police officers. This article is really about communication and why there is often such heightened emotion when communicating with others.
Everything I stated in the first paragraph was factual. It was the truth. However, there were some details that weren’t mentioned that could have changed your perspective. The other interesting thing about communication is that when we are the receiver of information we subconsciously relate what we are hearing or reading to our own experience. If there is missing information or it just doesn’t quite sound right, we fill in the “Gaps” so the story flows and makes sense to us. Did any of you fill in some “Gaps” with the police story?
The other thing that is interesting about this situation is that you not only filled in some gaps, but you felt emotion from it. Many of you actually felt emotions associated with reading this article.
So, the bottom line is that…you felt emotion that created a physical response…over an article you read…where you filled in the gaps of missing information…with your own experiences from the past.
Is it any wonder we encounter communication problems within our communities, work and families? Think about the intricacies of being a parent; the many interactions we have with teachers, other parents, employers and co-workers. Think about the day to day communications that take place. It’s amazing any of us have friends or family! (Said with a wink and a smile.)
The question then becomes; “What can we do about it?”
There really isn’t much we can do about what others say or how they communicate. The focus needs to be on us and how we receive information. If something doesn’t make sense, ask a question. If you read something that doesn’t sit right with you, think it through from all angles. If someone says or does something that makes you angry, pause for a moment and see if you are “filling in gaps” of information. You may want to read this other article I wrote where I discuss the emotions we feel and where they come from. It’s entitled TheRoller Coaster of Life.
In a study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, he was able to conclude that when we communicate with each other, only 7% of the communication is verbal. This means that we are taking cues and interpreting different aspects of our interaction in ways other than simply the words we use. He found that 55% of our communication with others is actually us interpreting the other person’s body language. This includes their stance, if they are fidgeting or moving around, if they touch you, turn their back on you or make eye contact. The other area of significance is the other person’s voice. He found that 38% of the communication is the tone of voice and inflection someone uses. So, the reality of communication is that 7% is what we say…93% is how we say it.
Is this information that can help us at work? What about with our family? Are our children experiencing healthy communication through technology; for example, social media and texting? What if our work includes time on the phone consulting with a nationwide clientele? Without healthy communication, groups of employees, city communities, private and non-profit organizations will all continue to fill in the gaps with personal "narratives". In the long run, filling in the gaps with our own narratives isn't healthy for anyone. Therefore, be aware of your communication, listen to others beyond their words and have a healthy balance of in-person interactions! What are your thoughts? Please share a comment.