I used to write a regular column here called “Gynomite’s Emotional Assignment of the Day”, which is a pretty self-explanatory title. I’m resurrecting it today to discuss communication, and what its intentions are.
Communication is supposed to convey information to another person, but it can also evoke emotions, mislead, keep emotional ties strong, etc and so on. It can do a million things- the problem is that people often have multiple intentions with their communications but, and here’s the kicker, insist that they don’t.
This is the problem I want to address. It’s not that it’s bad for your communication to be doing a few different jobs, it’s that we all need to be a bit more aware of it. The harm comes when we pretend that we’re being open and honest when we’re really expecting the other person to do the work of figuring out “what we mean”, or worse, when we’re hoping to inflict damage that we can later pretend was just a casual comment.
The goal, as ever, is clear, assertive communication.
A few examples.
In a conversation with a girl/boyfriend:
Him/Her: I might be gone for a bit but I’ll be home when I can.
You: It’s okay. I’m getting used to you not being around.
The goal of your communication there is not to convey information, but rather to convey hurt feelings and inspire the other person to feel bad for how they’re treating you.
Lunch with a friend:
Him/Her: I might get dessert! Do you want dessert?
You: Oh, I couldn’t. I’m so envious that you don’t care what you eat.
Obviously, you are mad that you can’t eat dessert and want to punish your pal for tempting you with it.
It’s passive aggressive, sure, but it’s also worse than that, because it comes with a level of deniability that makes the other person crazy. So the assignment for today works both ways-
Next time you’re in a conversation with someone that you have complicated feelings towards, be it a boss, your parents, a spouse, or a frenemy, stop yourself before speaking and ask yourself “what am I really wanting to get across?” Then ask yourself if it would be so terrible if you just said what you meant. If your goal is to hurt the other person, maybe it shouldn’t be said, but if your goal is to let the other person know that your feelings have been hurt, try being honest about it.
Next time you’re in a conversation with someone who is throwing a ton of shit at you but masking it as just conversation, call them on it. Just say “What did you intend with that last statement? What did you want me to feel as a result of that? Because what I feel is ______”
Hidden communications only work when they stay hidden- let’s all make an effort to not put up with them, and to not pull them on other people. It’s 2013, let’s act like it.