Friday, May 25, 2012

Communication Breakdown

I was surprised by a statement that I heard on a recording with Dr. Greg Smalley, a clinical psychologist. He said (paraphrased) that if he ever caught his children trying to work out a conflict via Facebook they would lose their internet privileges for six months. He said he would gladly drive them to wherever they needed to go to work out the conflict face-to-face.

What followed was a discussion of conflict resolution and communication skills reminiscent of the material that Nan and I present to our “preparing for marriage” class.

From research studies it has been determined that only 7% of a complete communication is comprised of words. The other 93% is a combination of the tone we use and the body language that we display. And body language is the greater part.

So what is the implication here? 

We have a higher risk of miscommunication when we use any method of alternate communication other than face-to-face.

From my experience many couples seem to have more conflict while talking on the telephone or texting. There are no reassuring facial expressions or physical touch. And with text there are no voice tones to help interpret intent. And without these cues a whole lot of mindreading may be going on in the background. And then if we try to resolve the conflict by the same method, we are compounding the difficulty.

What we are looking for in a complete communication is congruency. Do the words, tone and body language all match? Or does the tone or body language speak a different message from the words being used? Obviously, we can only expect a full communication when all three elements are present. That is why video chats are more satisfying than audio or text only exchanges.

When we observe politicians campaigning for office, congruency is what we are watching for. Do they appear honest and straightforward or does something bother us about them? If we are uncomfortable it is probably because their words seem incompatible with their tone or body language.

Am I suggesting that we abandon texting and telephoning? Of course not! These are really great tools for exchanging information and much more. But they are not the preferred method when we need to deal with conflict or sensitive or emotional matters. Then it’s time to take a drive and look into the eyes of the person directly.

Plus, you wouldn’t want to risk losing your internet privileges for six months. 

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