What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate!

Have you ever had a complete failure to communicate with someone? What did you do about it? How did you solve your communication problems?

A few years ago, my husband and I were attending a party at a location in a nearby town. We’d never been to the place. We were told it was easy to find, just across from the WalMart. In the rush of getting ready, neither of us thought to look up the location online, so we could find an exact address to program into our GPS.

Instead, we sat in our driveway and asked my iPhone adviser Siri where Youth for Christ was. Siri replied she did not deal with ecclesiastical matters. I rephrased the question. Siri responded she dealt with things silicon, not spiritual! Frustrated, but realizing the humor of the situation, I tried yet again. Siri then asked me if I wanted her to find me a local pastor or another minister with whom to discuss my questions!

It was only then my laughing husband remembered about the WalMart. So I asked Siri where it was. There are 3 nearer to us than that one, and Siri tried to give me the closest. Finally, I thought to add the name of the town to the WalMart and told Siri to give me that one. Siri finally figured out what I wanted!! Our GPS armed with the information, laughing all the way, we finally left the party, somewhat later than we’d planned!

What Siri and I had that day was a failure to communicate. I believed I was clearly stating where I wanted to go. However, Siri’s global database had never heard of where I wanted to go, or her programming only chose certain words (like “Christ”) from what I said to interpret what I wanted. The resulting disconnect both amused and frustrated us. It amused us because her answers were very funny! It frustrated us because it left us clueless about where we were supposed to be going. It was only when we revised our end of the conversation (twice!) that we got the answers we needed.

Failures to communicate happen daily within human relationships in friends and family, and even among strangers. We may think we understand what we are saying, and think they do, but if they aren’t really understanding us, a failure to communicate is inevitable. As LIFE leader Chris Mattis says,

It doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter what you meant to say. It only matters what they heard.

Failures to communicate can damage relationships, destroy marriages and families and even cause wars in extreme cases. There are some historians who say the War of 1812 was to at least some extent a failure between Great Britain and the United States to communicate.

So how do we deal with this issue? How do we work past these challenges and speak to people so they hear us? 

In a college public speaking class, I learned 4 basic rules by which we were to mold all our speeches. I’ve since heard many public speakers use them, and I have personally found them helpful in my daily living when I use them. They are

Be bright. Be brief. Know your audience. Be gone!

Be Bright. One of the first keys in communication starts with having something to say.  The Bible talks in many places about people who speak endlessly with nothing to contribute, and we’ve all experienced unfortunate episodes with such special individuals personally. LIFE leader Terry Franks defines such one-sided conversations as

the slings and arrows of outlandish gerbilling! Light travels faster than sound, which is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak!

I am always reminding myself not to talk to hear myself speak or because I feel I need to add my voice to a conversation. I want to contribute productively to it. As my father used to say,

Silence is not an indicator of intelligence or its lack. Sometimes, speaking is.

Be Brief. Okay, I will confess this is the one with which I struggle the most. (I know, not a shock!) A mentor of mine is often reminding me to say the most with the least amount of words, and none if at all possible. As St. Francis of Assisi is attributed to saying,

Preach Christ, and if necessary use words.

It was in the area of brevity where Siri and I failed to communicate. I said, “Youth for Christ,” meaning the organization its regional location. Siri heard, “Christ,” and understood I wanted to discuss religious matters, something a computer program isn’t designed to do. I gave the briefest inquiry appropriate. Siri didn’t have the information I wanted.

Know Your Audience. Are they a close family member? A friend? A complete stranger? Is your language their first language, or is there a bigger communication gap than what we’re dealing with here? Are you unintentionally about to push buttons with ill-chosen words?

My conversation with Siri was lacking in this regard, too. I didn’t know, until we hit on the WalMart in the correct town, how to phrase my inquiries in a way so Siri would understand. Siri didn’t understand the nature of my original request, either. Siri didn’t hear or wasn’t programmed to hear the entirety of what I’d said. Siri only caught bits and pieces. And it was in her bits and their lack that our failure to communicate started, and escalated.

When I consider my audience, I have to be aware of certain things. Are they children? I tone down my vocabulary closer to their level and use simpler words and concepts, explaining myself more. Are they professional people? Jargon might be appropriate, or maybe not, depending on the group and situation. I will admit a definite distaste for buzz words!

Two books available from LIFE have truly been helpful to me in understanding people. The first is the classic Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. It speaks of peoples’ different social interaction styles, and how to know which styles you, your friends and family have. Each different style blend requires a different way of speaking to them so they will hear what you are saying. For example, I would not give the same information to my daughter in the same way as I did to my husband if I wanted similar reactions from them, because I know their style blends are polar opposites.

The second book is another classic, Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People.  Before you think, “Oh, I have lots of friends!” please let me remind you we’re talking about successful communication with everyone. This book goes into volumes more than I can begin to get into in a blog post, and I highly recommend it.

Be Gone. How many times have we yearned to hang up on (or walk away from) a conversation with someone who just refuses to let go? The introductory pleasantries have been dealt with, the subject matter discussed and now it’s time to end the chat, but the other party just won’t let you get on with your day! Unfortunately, this is another sin to which I must lay claim to being guilty. It has taken the loving insistence of my friends to let me know of this bad habit, and to work to curtail it. I have to remember the time of the people with whom I am speaking is just as valuable as mine, and if I want them to value my time highly, I have to do the same for them.

So, rather than going on with a long-winded close, I will Be Gone for now to let you, dear readers, contribute to the conversation. I’d really like to know your thoughts and stories on communication, or its lack. The floor is yours!

On Being Married 35 Years (And Counting)

I originally posted this 3 years ago, for our 32nd anniversary. Well, a few things have changed since then, and I thought it was time for an update and repost. Enjoy!

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How do couples who have been married a long time stay together?  What are the secrets to a happy marriage, and where can we learn them??

Marriage Day

June 7, 2015, is our 35th anniversary.  Here’re a few things we’ve learned about one another along the way:

He can sleep anywhere, under almost any conditions.
I need darkness and quiet.

He makes the bed.
I pull up the covers.

He thinks tools should be kept where he last used them.
I think they belong in the toolbox.

We both agree dirt + mud + hardwood = NO-NO.

He thinks dinner consists of lots of meat. And hot.  Vegetables and Carbohydrates are optional.
I think dinner has all food groups, with meat as a side dish. Salad dinners in the summer are acceptable. Menus should read, “Take it or leave it.” “Silly Suppers” (pancakes/waffles or omelets) are acceptable at the chef’s discretion. Picnics are acceptable. (Update: I think bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and other high carbohydrate items are a no-no. I began a low carbohydrate and high-fat eating program just after Christmas 2014 to get better control of my diabetes and weight. I am having good success with it, and these changes are a big reason why.)

He thinks cooking measurements are done with the spoons one eats with, and the glasses one drinks with.
I think we own multiple sets of measuring spoons and cups for very good reasons.

He thinks ice cream is a food group, and chocolate is a dessert.

It's the picture of Italian ice-cream in a sho...

I think chocolate is a food group, and ice cream is a dessert. (Update: Needless to say, with the new eating plan, I’m not eating a lot of these!)

He thinks cheese is optional.
I think cheese is a necessity, even mandatory.

He thinks toys for our 4 grandchildren belong in the living room, where they play with them when they visit.
I think toys belong in the room where they sleep when they visit, and can be brought down.

He thinks any towel hanging from the stove is acceptable to use on hands, dishes, cookware, or whatever.
I think hand towels are for hands and dish towels are for dishes, and that’s why we have both kinds.

He thinks dirty socks go on floors and the guest bed is an acceptable closet/bureau when unoccupied.
I think all dirty clothes go in the laundry basket, and clean ones should go on my closet door.  (We both have issues with putting stuff away!)

We both agree physical mail is for greeting cards and packages. Whatever can be done online, should be done online.

He thinks ice cream is eaten from the box, in the living room.
I think ice cream is eaten from a bowl, at the table or a soft serve stand. (Update: Needless to say, with the new eating plan, I’m not eating a lot of these!)

We both think strawberries are the world’s best fruit.  We both love asparagus. (Update: I have also become incredibly partial to low carbohydrate blackberries!)

He thinks our backyard needs a cover for our pool filter and a shed for our garden/lawn supplies to be perfect.
I think it also needs a gazebo down to be perfect.

He thinks our 3 cats are enough pets.
I think we need to look for a small-ish dog. And set back up the fish tank.

New Living Room(Not our living room!)

He thinks leather, velvet and modern are best for decorating our house.
I think English Country is best for every area of the house except his office.  He can do what he wants in there.

He thinks a painting with fake water and motion in it would look great in our living room.
I think they make me seasick.  If he wants one, he can keep it in his office.

He has a talent that is a total genius for packing large spaces. Need to move or going on a trip? He’s your guy to pack the moving van or car.
I have a talent for packing small spaces. Need to put away leftovers? Don’t call him. Call me. I know exactly what size container will work for what leftover every time.

We laugh at a lot of it, talk over some, agree to disagree on some, don’t make major decisions until we have come to a conclusion we can both live with and don’t go to bed mad. We understand if we agreed on everything in our marriage, one of us would be unnecessary.  We know compromise is an essential part of living happily together.

We don’t talk over potentially stressful stuff when we’re tired, hungry or distracted. We try to talk to our spouse’s personality and say and do things that show them we love them in their love language.

We both think shouting just makes noise and more upset. No one can talk to someone else if they are busy shouting at them. We both think communication is essential to the survival of any healthy relationship, and most particularly to a healthy marriage. It’s something we’ve been working hard on lately.

We tolerate each other’s families and sympathize when they drive each other nuts. We back each other’s decisions about our kids/grandkids, and we try to talk those decisions over first. If one of us is away, we talk several times daily.

We tolerate each other’s foibles, faults, and failings.  We remember why we fell in love and what we still love about each other and finding new stuff to love about each other at every available opportunity. We look for humor in every disaster, knowing a funny story makes suffering worthwhile in the long run. (Tragedy + Time = Humor, and you get to pick how long the Time part lasts!) We cherish our friendships and accept each other’s friends. We begin and end every day thanking God for each other.

Sometimes, it’s been work. Sometimes, it’s not. It’s always been worth it.  And we’ve learned all of this. How? Ask me about LIFE.  All comments asking for information will be kept confidential.

Oh, and one more thing:

He thinks “Happy wife, happy life.”
I think, “Happy spouse, happy house.”

PS — He not only content-approved this post, he encouraged it!

PPS — Happy 35th Anniversary to Bob Kilpatrick, my loving husband, my Editor in Chief, my business partner, the one who makes me the most nuts, and the one I make the most nuts! Through all the laughter, tears and everything in between, I would do it all again only if I could do it with you! Here’s to another 35 together!!