Why study communication?
When I started my Interpersonal Communications class and then again when I began my independent study on communications, I was shocked by a wave of despair. The more I studied communication the more I saw how impossible it was to actually communicate exactly what I wanted to communicate. Words can have multiple interpretations; ideas are taken differently according to past experiences; different personalities make communicators prone to take things in opposite ways; tone of voice, facial expression, nonverbals, proxemics, and much more can be taken the wrong way.
When people find out I’m majoring in Communications, I almost always get the joking response, “ah, so you’re good at communicating.” No, I’m not good at communicating. And, after having continued studying communications, I find myself more and more assured of that. In fact, arguably most people aren’t good at communicating. So what is the point? Why am I majoring in communications and, an even more relevant question, why in the world am I blogging about communications and making you think about the depressing topic?!
Well, the truth of it is, there is value in knowing how treacherous the art of communicating is. After all, with the countless possible incongruencies and the necessity of communicating every single day, there is bound to be a few hang ups. Knowing this fact alone makes the hang ups easier to deal with. After all, recognizing that you won’t always take the other person quite as they meant to be taken and vice versa always leaves a margin of error, which stops us from being overly-confident in the first place. If something someone said (or seemed to say) appears to be significantly “off,” having a background in some communication makes it more likely that you will recognize that there may have been a miscommunication, instead of immediately reacting negatively. You’ll be more likely to extend grace, understanding that miscommunication is inevitable.
This knowledge of communication and miscommunication also helps us feel better about ourselves when another person reads us wrong. Knowing that miscommunication happens is by no means an excuse not to try to speak more clearly to others. However, this knowledge can be relieving when someone informs you that all your life you’ve been telling him/her that he/she stinks. My sister used to tell me that what I was constantly communicating was not love–she felt I did very little to show her I loved her (we have significantly different love languages). Obviously, at this point, I needed to make some changes in my communication with my sister. However, knowing that there was a misunderstanding allows me to stop second-guessing if I really had such bad intentions my whole life (it allowed me to recognize that I really do love my sister–I just hadn’t been speaking her love language). And it can stop you from convincing yourself that you just can’t express anything right and that you must have something wrong with you.
Once you begin to recognize these miscommunications, you can start to embrace my favorite of Deborah Tannen‘s quotes: “What seem like bad intentions may really be good intentions expressed in a different conversational style.” When you are willing to humble yourself and recognize that different people (who still have good intentions) express things in novel (but not entirely negative) ways, you’ll have a whole new world opened to you.
Ultimately then (big picture), the very least learning about communication can do for you is broaden your understanding of the world and encourage you to extend grace–both to yourself and to other communicators. And when you’re willing to give yourself and others a second chance, you have that much more opportunity to build relationships (and to keep relationships). You could have less opportunity to hold grudges and more opportunity to understand differing perspectives. This will give you some freedom to step out and build relationships with people who are different from you. In doing this, you can eventually start to bridge some communication gaps. No, you’ll never have such a sturdy bridge that you’ll be able to completely avoid such miscommunications. But you can at least build a rope bridge will allow you to go on adventures that previously hadn’t even had available.