Relational Friction

One of the biggest sources of friction in our relationships with people is miscommunication. Unlike the comic book heroes, none of us have developed the ability to read minds, and so we exist like little islands, maneuvering around each other day after day, hoping that we can cooperate and get along. Things often go well, especially when we focus on the other person’s needs first, but ultimately there will always be issues in our communication.

Sometimes this is because we make assumptions. We assume the other person will understand where we are coming from. Or that they will be able to fill in the details when we are a bit more vague than they would like. Maybe we simply feel the need to be economical with our words, and so we neglect putting effort into our communication believing that it is the other person’s responsibility to meet us halfway.

The truth is that anyone who desires to communicate a message, whether that message is small or big, trivial or important, needs to take complete and full responsibility for their spoken words and body language. The other person in a conversation, the reader or listener, the audience or partner, has no way of knowing the thoughts, motivation or purpose behind the moment of communication. They are simply receivers. They have no responsibility to hear more clearly or to parse and interpret the message of the one communicating. Zero.

No, the duty falls solely to the person with something to say. If we don’t clearly communicate our needs, and the other person fails to meet them, it is not their fault; the fault is ours. If we communicate a divisive message of opinion, and neglect to include clarifying language to prevent offending people, then we will offend them. Our words can do damage, as can our lack of words. It isn’t acceptable to speak “just enough”; our calling is to speak as much as necessary to get our full, intact message across.

When we speak or write, we must assume the listener is starting from a blank slate. We must assume that every ounce of interpretation the listener will do will be based on our spoken or written words. We must leave no blanks to fill, no grey or hazy lines, no destructive words without warnings and conditions. We must take full and unequivocal responsibility for our words, our message and our reception.

When we communicate with others, there is always room for friction to pop up. But crafting the message is only half of the act of communication. The other half is crafting the perception. Selfish, lazy, and thoughtless communication will always bring about relational friction. But caution, explanation and effort can take a potentially frustrating moment and turn it into a smooth, enjoyable and productive experience.

Speak your mind, the saying goes. And that is still true. Just be sure to speak it all.