Monday, 29 April 2013

Talk To Me - Introduction

We are not solitary creatures, at least most of us are not. Humans are defined as social animals, we live in groups, like other apes. Not alone, and not in herds either. It feels like a herd sometimes, but our basic social structure remains the tribe, really, and then the "village". Extended family, extended that is by friends, friends of friends, and then the community around us.

For many reasons we do better in this arrangement, people to talk to and more people to call upon when we need them. People who we have some sort of connection to, by blood, choice, or coincidence. Your own group may be small or quite large, but within it, without a doubt, are people who while being part of your tribe or community, are not like you in ways that really matter. So we don't always agree with these people.

It doesn't make them bad people. Or you for that matter. We can't all agree all the time.

There a bit of an old saying that goes around - why can't we all just get along? I think there are two reasons. One is that we don't always communicate well. I'm passionate about good communication, but it's not always easy. There are several reasons for that, not least that we aren't always fully conscious of our own feelings. Sounds absurd, but it can be easily demonstrated.

The other reason is that we seek different things. AND, sometimes we aren't sure what it is we're seeking. That in itself can make communication difficult, either because things just aren't being spoken (how can I know what it is you want if you don't tell me?) or because we speak, but don't listen.

It manifests in funny ways. It can cause arguments between people who really love each other very much, it can make people stubbornly refuse to listen, it can make people fight in public over silly things.

For someone like me, an amateur but dedicated observer of the human condition, it can be a bit of a head-scratcher. It's no easier for the experts. The psychologists, philosophers, anthropologists, and community leaders all spend some time, or quite a lot of time, trying to analyse why we can't all just get along.

Now there are all sorts of suggested solutions, and obviously LET'S TALK is right up there, but making it happen is quite another matter.

How do you open a dialogue when one or both parties are on the defensive? We see this plenty of times here in social media. People have hot buttons, oh boy do they ever. I've got 17 years of experience of this form of communication and I still make mistakes sometimes in how I express myself, and I know I'm trying really hard. So for those more recently "arrived" as it were, and without a powerful desire to communicate clearly, and/or without the right attitude...well, it goes without saying. Things can blow up fast.

People argue more readily via a screen than when face to face, but there is still plenty of conflict face to face. Far too much. It makes no difference the situation, frankly.

So, sometimes we try to solve these conflicts, we try to make peace, we try to pour oil on troubled waters. How many times have you seen attempts at peacemaking cause even more argument?

The biggest dilemma becomes when to speak and when not. 

Or, to put it another way, when to STFU?

There are those who will tell you "I always speak my mind". I'm not sure if it's true. If you actually did, it's very unlikely you'd do very well in life. Speaking your mind can get you into a lot of problems. Tact and discretion can be life-savers. On the other hand there are few people who never voice their feelings, even if it only happens in times of utter frustration.

Over the years I've often been an adviser to those with communication issues. It began in school. Why did I take it upon myself to do this? What makes me think I'm any better at it than anyone else? Can't answer either of those, it just happened. I've just always done my best when called upon, acknowledging that I may be wrong. Also acknowledging that I may be right and misunderstood or rejected. Such is tribal life.

It is incredibly difficult, and often inadvisable, to offer unsolicited advice. We've all received it, after all, and among the unsolicited advice we've received is advice so very far off the mark that it's frustrating or laughable. So we are aware of that (hopefully) when we decide how to open a dialogue ourselves.

I suggest that although there are many levels of this, the process is always the same. Whether it is between a couple, between an employee and employer or supervisor within the workplace, between colleagues, between neighbours, between parent and child, between siblings, between more distant family members, between friends, between service and customer........ or between entire nations. If there is to be a resolution of conflict the communication must be:


In no particular order, because they all matter. I'm going to spend all week on this topic, because I find it interesting, and I think it's important. Uppermost in my mind the whole time is the problem of not just what to say but what not to say. Even the Bible has something to offer here. Ecclesiastes 3:7 "......a time to keep silence, and a time to speak". (Pity about the next line, but that's the trouble with quotations).


  1. I think that the shut up suggestion works best in most situations.

  2. Still learning the art of knowing the difference...most of the time, unless I'm blogging? I just "Suck it up, buttercup!". I find it most difficult with the boys and Dave.

  3. No matter if I am on screen or off, I tend to speak or not speak as the conversation and my sense of need to share/express/chime in is touched. I learned very young that when in doubt, it is better to just 'keep the lips zipped' than land your butt in hot water.

    Hence the reason I rarely comment on blogs, I often am not so sure if what I have to say is relevant to the conversation or not, so I stay silent...

    1. There is always room for clarification,Ryl, There's always room for apologies as well. When you comment on a conversation, you may be offering a different perspective that can be taken away and mulled over.

      Bloggers, the long winded souls that we are, love comments, as long as the comments are not related to medications to enlarge genitalia, money won on a lottery or a Russian bride pining to meet "iligible mens".

    2. I can only speak for myself, but from many years experience, I can tell you that I crave comments here. It doesn't matter if you agree with me, hate me, or think I'm barking, feedback is interesting. I miss the conversations that ensued from Multiply posts. We talked in those days. As ever, all I ask anyone is to avoid actual rudeness. I have no time for that, and it's one of the angles I shall cover in this blog series.

  4. I am learning to shut up late in life, only in the last few years really. Also, a different angle: silence can be used as a form of passive aggression.