Talking About Talking: Part One

I was a communication major in college, and I taught communication theory in grad school. I got an MA in media studies and am a journalist by trade. Needless to say, I often think about communication. So it's time to start a multi-part series about it on my blog. What can I say? I'm nostalgic for grad school. There are a LOT of different kinds of communication. Everyone does it slightly differently. It’s one of the things I like most about people. I love observing how they talk and listening to them and learning about their stories. I'm a journalist, so it's kinda what I do.

People are super interesting, and there's nothing like a human conversation and what happens when people open up to each other and express things and make meaning through communication. It's the "miracle of communication," as theorist James Carey would say.

But as much as it is a miracle, communication is also the source of much conflict and interpersonal stress. It's difficult. People have different communication methods and patterns and preferences, and that can be frustrating because no two people communicate in the same way. I'm someone who appreciates a wide variety of communication methods and can be conversant in a diverse array of settings and people groups. I sort of pride myself on the ability to talk to pretty much anyone about almost anything, but I'd be lying if I said it came easy to me or always worked out the way I hoped it would.

Here is something I've thought of recently, as regards interpersonal and group communication: should we significantly alter our communication behavior based on different contexts or settings, and if so is this a deviance from our "preferred" or "natural" communication behavior? Or should we accept and embrace our tendency toward chameleonic communication as just part of the natural flow? Perhaps we are meant to be different communicators at different times and places in our lives?

For example, I think that there is a type of communication that I prefer. It tends to be one-on-one communication that is about substantive things and isn't all that interested in beating around the bush for very long or talking about the weather, etc. But I realize that not everyone likes to talk this way, and that that is perfectly legit. Based on a number of factors (including things like class, education, family life, etc), people have widely varying dominant communication behaviors. So because I want to know people who are not just like me, I find myself speaking (or attempting to speak) in different ways around different people. Even though I might want to, I can't jump right in to a discussion about contemporary art criticism with everyone I come across. I mean, we all do this to an extent (we speak differently around Grandma than we do around our boss or our best friend, etc), but I sometimes marvel at how frequently I find myself doing it.

Am I better off in the long run if I just stay true to the type of communication I'm good at and enjoy? Should I focus on the relationships where we are on the same page about communication? This seems the easier route... but I'm not sure the best one. I like the challenge of learning to communicate with people and finding ways to make it work even if we have completely different communication styles. I think communication is at its most miraculous when it happens between people who by all accounts shouldn't have anything to say to one another.

But there is always something that can be said.