Why Do We Stink at Communication?

by Cathy Miller

in Miller Musings

bigstock-social-media-communication-in-25540013We have endless choices.

  • Phones – smart and otherwise
  • Email – often more than one account
  • Social media – with tweets, posts, connections, pins, and more
  • Face-to-face – remember that one?

For all our choices, we stink at communications.

Why is that?

You’re Late

Somewhere between our brain and our mouth, good communication gets lost.

Remember the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland?

I’m late. I’m late. For a very important date. No time to say Hello, Goodbye. I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.

Mr. Rabbit might have been late, but he wouldn’t let others distract him from his run to his important date. At least he had a sense of urgency.

How often have you felt the other person didn’t place much significance on your appointment?

  • Running late for an appointment?
  • How about letting the other person know?

Life happens.

I think most of us understand that.

  • A quick text
  • An email
  • A call from an assistant

Something! Allow that person to get off their holding pattern for an appointment gone bad.

Failing to notify someone that you’re running late – or worse – missing the appointment altogether – sends a message that your time is more valuable than theirs.

The Sound of Silence

I admit it. I’m a recovering listener.

I work at keeping my mouth shut and actually listening to a conversation. We are so wired to respond that we think about our response when we should be listening.

I love this quote from classical pianist, Alfred Brendel.

The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.

I think of it as the Silent Shuffle.

  • Remain silent
  • Then shuffle your mind to listen

The Sound Barrier

There comes a time when we need to break the sound of silence.

  • Acknowledge an action by letting the person know you received the message, gift or information
  • Share information before they hear it someplace else – no one likes feeling they are the last to know
  • Leave them feeling good with a little common courtesy

Think about all the times when simple communication would have avoided so much drama.

Good communication links arms with good feelings.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou



BigStock Photo Credit


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon Hurley Hall January 10, 2013 at 8:26 am

So true, Cathy, and I’ve always loved that quote by Maya Angelou.
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Cathy January 10, 2013 at 10:50 am

I swear there is no quote of Maya’s that I don’t love. I so admire her. I hope to grow up to be Maya. 😉


Lori January 10, 2013 at 9:29 am

I’m terminally punctual, so lateness bothers me no end. When I had a client once who was late for every single phone conference she arranged, I got used to putting the phone on speaker and listening to canned music while I worked on something else. In fact, she made one of nine calls she’d arranged. One. I got to a point I’d wait five minutes tops. After that, click!

Great insight on the lack of listening. I’m tired of being talked at. I have a dear friend who is guilty — she’ll tell me her entire life story, and when I change the topic, she brings it right back. So I’ve learned to talk to her like she talks to me. She’s not listening, so it doesn’t matter. LOL

Love your solutions, Cathy. It’s amazing how an “I got it!” email makes a huge difference. For instance, I’ve sent two projects to a client two weeks ago. Couldn’t tell you if they received either. I even asked. Nothing. If they come back saying I missed the boat, I’m forwarding the emails. Just say “Yep.” I don’t need a lengthy conversation!
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Cathy January 10, 2013 at 10:55 am

You are so right, Lori. It doesn’t take an epistle of a response. A simple Got it, as you expressed it, works nicely.

I’m another punctual person. It’s funny, I’ve learned to accept late friends on the personal side. It really doesn’t bother me, but that’s usually because we’re not doing anything that requires us to be somewhere at a specific time. I’m pretty laid-back about it.

Work, on the other hand, is hitting us squarely in the wallet in lost time, so, I feel it’s important to be punctual. And when life happens, at least let me know so I can move on to something else.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lori.


Sharon Hurley Hall January 11, 2013 at 6:11 am

Love the phrase ‘terminally punctual’, Lori – it describes me too. :)
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Cathy January 11, 2013 at 6:34 am

Make that three. 😉


Darnell Jackson January 10, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Yes Cathy, We’re horrible at communication because we don’t listen anymore.

Everyone is talking about how short our attention spans have become.

The real problem is people don’t CARE what anyone else has to say. We just want to talk talk talk and stare at our little screens endlessly like we’re under a spell or something.

it’s sad.
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Cathy January 11, 2013 at 6:32 am

I hope it’s not that we don’t care, Darnell. Although you will find I have Pollyanna tendencies. :-) There are so many reasons for not listening (in my humble opinion) – distractions, insecurities, and as you say short attention spans.

I do agree, it’s sad that for all of our tools, we suffer so much in the communications department. Thanks for sharing your view, Darnell.


Anne Wayman January 10, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Love the Maya Angelou quote too… didn’t know that one… it’s really back to the golden rule isn’t it.


Cathy January 11, 2013 at 6:33 am

Yes, it does, Anne-paraphrased in Maya Angelou’s inimitable style. :-)


Devon Ellington January 11, 2013 at 11:29 am

I loathe it when people are late, and I go out of my way to be punctual. To me, lateness is a passive-aggressive, personal insult tactic. It is the individual saying “your time isn’t worth as much as mine is, so you can just wait!”

Actually, I can’t.

I wait 15 minutes. Then, I leave, unless the person had the courtesy to explain they’re running late & are on the way.

When it’s a business appointment, I charge for the waiting time.
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Cathy January 11, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I think that’s more than reasonable, Devon. I figure if you’re still conscious, you can get a quick message out that you’re running late.

Thanks for sharing your M.O., Devon. :-)


Lori January 14, 2013 at 7:09 am

Darnell has a point. It’s that people are so unheard in their personal and professional lives that when someone asks “How are you?” it’s a ten-minute monologue for a response. And I think those little screens we stare at have something to do with it.

It’s rare that I ask someone how they are or what they do that I get the question, or any question, back to me. I don’t even expect anyone to show an interest anymore. When they do, they intrigue me enough to want to spend more time talking with them!

We’re losing basic courtesies in our communications.
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Cathy January 14, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Lori, I definitely think being so reliant on electronic means of communication affect listening skills. We already know we scan instead of reading. When was the last time we went off (even internally) over something we thought we read, only to discover we misread it. Is it any wonder, we mess up listening – something we don’t do as much as we used to anyway. :-)

Thanks for your thoughts, Lori.


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