From Dr. Jane's Notebook

Communication Protocol for an Election Year

As our country approaches the November elections, each day offers new excitement as we align ourselves with different candidates. On the positive side, elections create opportunities to clarify our values and imagine a different future. On the negative side, there’s a great temptation to separate ourselves from those who differ with our views. Divisive lines can be drawn within families, between friends, and even in the workplace.  While all of this excitement is a healthy part of our democracy, when the election is over we will need to re-unite. So it’s not a bad time to brush up on our communication skills.

·        Communication requires both hearing and listening. We’ve all had the experience of trying to talk with someone while they are watching TV, so we know what it’s like to be heard but not listened to you. Most any one can parrot back words they have heard but communication feels empty when others fail to listen. The process of listening and conversing is one of give and take. Like playing ping pong, communicators should pay attention, wait patiently, and then return the ball. If however, your partner slams down their paddle and refuses to play by the rules, one of you is likely to take your ball and go home. So it goes with communicating.

·        Communication occurs on many levels. When we communicate, our words are just a small part of what we convey to our listener. The meaning of our message is strongly determined by our tone of voice, our facial expressions, and eye contact. For example, if someone speaks to us in an angry tone, we are more likely to respond to their anger than the message they’re trying to convey. Better to get over your anger before trying to speak; no one likes to be yelled at.

·        Words are important but behavior is more important. Unfortunately, many people lie. As we sharpen our communication skills, we must learn to recognize lies and learn to be more truthful ourselves. When people tell lies, there is usually a mismatch between their words and their actions, their facial expressions or their eye contact. When we speak, tiny little facial muscles betray us, our eyes fail to meet the eyes of others, and even our posture may give us away. As an attentive listener, pay attention to these mismatches between words and deeds then trust your gut reaction as to the sincerity of the speaker.

·        Beware of taking too may short-cuts in your interpersonal relationships. We live in a world of incredible technological advances. The down side of our progress has been the loss of vital communication skills and the abbreviated use of our senses. Instead of face to face conversations, we often use e-mail to exercise a hit-and-run approach to communication. We leave messages because we are too busy to talk. We instant message while hiding behind a screen which prevents others from seeing us. We abbreviate words because we’re too busy or lazy to spell them out completely. And we frequently attend to several tasks at once rather than give others our full attention. 

In the coming months, we will sit in judgment of our presidential candidates as we try to envision who will best lead our country in the right direction. We all want a president who will be respectful, honest and thoughtful in their decisions. As we consider those traits which we value in our leaders, it’s not a bad idea to grade ourselves by the same measuring stick. Take time to consider how you treat those around you. No doubt, there are those who look to you as a leader and role model. This election year is more than just an opportunity to improve the leadership of our country. This year we have a chance to improve ourselves and our relationships with others. I’d say, we all have work to do!

©Copyright, 2008, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.            

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