How communication, mis-, and lack thereof affects relationships…and practical ways we can enhance and protect them in this dizzying digital age

Communication. It’s been an issue in relationships since humanity began and Adam told Eve “Oh, no, you didn’t.” At its worst, it’s the bane of many marriages. The final straw of more than one friendship. The ultimate extinguisher of a once-roaring romance. Of course, at its best, it’s also the sign he loved in the first place. The reason you knew your friendship was meant to be. The assurance you have that you are wanted and appreciated.

SilenceIt’s safe to assume these days that communication just ain’t what it used to be, and considering the effect this digital age has had on our communication, that’s no doubt the case. But for every way in which modern-day gadgets have hampered communication in our relationships, they’ve equally and oxymoronically made it all the easier and more efficient. Regardless, no matter the era, the method, or the means, communication can make or break any relationship.

In a recent and completely unofficial Facebook survey I conducted, I asked my peeps what their biggest pet peeves are when it comes to communication in relationships. From their responses, which were many, I have outlined the following communication what-not-to-do’s, starting with the most common answers. Take a listen to…

The Very Worst Ways to Communicate Very, Very Badly

  • Don’t. The most guaranteed way to do damage to a relationship is to simply not communicate at all. And while that seems beyond obvious (I mean, duh), it’s a blunder many of us commit. We go months without talking to our friend and then get offended that they don’t know what’s going on in our personal lives. We talk (and I mean really talk) to extended family only at holidays (if then) and act surprised that we don’t know each other well after all. We see our spouses only in passing and can’t believe that we’re no longer the close couple we once were. We never sit down to make real conversation with our kids and then just can’t believe that they would drift so far from what we’ve supposedly taught them. Let’s face it: We can’t expect to have real relationships if we have no real communication.
  • Lie. Stretch the truth. Pretend you’re somebody you are not. Cover for yourself. Say you feel one way when you really feel another. Ignore a message that you actually received, but fib and say you didn’t see it. Dishonesty of any kind has no place in our relationships. When found out (and it will be), it breaks trust, builds walls, and leaves the other person second guessing every single word that comes out of your mouth (or your device). Lying tells the other person that they should not be real with you, because you are less than real with them.
  • Expect mind-reading. Listen, even Sylvia the Psychic sucked at mind-reading, so unless you have ESP and can telepathically send a message—and have it successfully delivered, don’t expect anyone else to know what you’re thinking at any given time or on any given matter. Truth be told, expecting someone to read your mind is one of the most futile and desperate acts in any relationship, and dealing with someone who expects mind-reading gets really old really fast. It is a power trip, a lazy and ineffective way to get your point across, and a selfish demand of an unfair amount of energy from the person on the other end of the relationship. Bottom line: If you have something to say, SAY IT. Otherwise you might find friends, co-workers, and even romantic partners walking away because they’d rather have a relationship than play your games. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  • Play the passive aggressive role. You didn’t invite me to join the group on the last Night Out on the Town. Instead of informing you that that like really, really hurt my feelings, I’ll just ignore your texts and quit liking your posts on Facebook, because we all know THAT WILL REALLY SHOW YOU. You didn’t like my comment on your recent post, so you block me from your page altogether instead of talking it out like a big girl. You’re utterly offended or totally annoyed with someone, so you vent on Facebook instead of dealing with it directly. (See a social media pattern here? This digital era seems to fuel the fire of passive aggression.) Sulking when your husband gets your size TOTALLY WRONG, giving a cookbook to your daughter-in-law when you know she sucks at cooking, “accidentally” tossing your husband’s favorite but totally too-oft worn shirt in the Goodwill pile because you just can’t stand to look at it for one more day, throwing around backhanded compliments, postponing an invitation because you just really don’t want to go, avoiding running into someone because you don’t want to tell them how you really feel…Yep, all passive aggression at its finest. At their roots, most communication issues probably involve passive aggression to some degree or another and an avoidance of simply telling the other person what you actually want them to know. And while we all participate in this futile game sometimes, it is undoubtedly cowardice at its core and an unfair way to deal with anger, leaving one person in the dark while you go on trying to release your aggression, well, passively. Passive aggression only serves to confuse and shuts down any potential conversations entirely.
  • Manipulate. Manipulators have an arsenal of communication weapons available to them, and they certainly aren’t afraid to use them to get what they want. Those who fall victim to their schemes feel duped and betrayed, yet somehow can’t stop themselves from falling under their sway. Manipulation. Both men and women are deft in this “skill,” and both use it for their own gain. “I cannot live without you.” “You’re the most beautiful man/woman I’ve ever met.” “If you really love me, you’ll…” It is a selfish tactic in communication in any relationship: using your words to your own advantage instead of to the benefit of the other party.
  • Be completely unclear or totally vague. Give an answer but don’t really. Don’t say yes but don’t say no. Commit but only halfway. See what I mean? I already want to pull out my unwashed hair. Vagueness in communication can be more maddening than no communication at all. It doesn’t actually deliver any message and merely frustrates the receiver, while the sender can pretend they are totally off the hook. “What is the problem? I already answered your question.” Uh, yeah. But you didn’t actually give an answer in your “answer.” Uh-huh. Got it. Clear as my mind at sunrise. Just shoot me straight, please. 
  • Absolutely incorporate always and never. Because everyone always loves to hear that they absolutely never do this or always do that. Listen, there are very few things any of us always or never do. So unless you are in a relationship with that one exceptional person who always is this and never is that, don’t ever use these words. Like never. Ever.
  • Go on the attack or play defense. It’s easy to put up our dukes and let the metaphorical fists fly when someone confronts us (even gently and justifiably). We feel under attack. But before you clench raised hands and put up your guard, consider what the other person has to say, even if it hurts a little (or a lot). You might be surprised how quickly a matter is resolved when defenses are down and hands are extended. 
  • Plug your ears. Listening is a vital component to communication, so it’s no shocker that refusing to hear what someone has to say (whether intentionally or negligently) shuts communication down entirely. If you’re a parent, it’s especially easy to think we are good listeners for our children, but if you ever hear your kids say in exasperation, “You never listen to me!,” then we might want to honestly survey our listening skills. In reality, they might be lacking. In whatever relationship, if you feel like you are hearing the same thing over and over again in the same conversation for the past umpteen years, maybe you’re not actually listening at all. So get your fingers out of your ears and listen up.
  • Don’t respond. Someone needs a favor from you. A friend asks you out to dinner. You need are desperate to know what time your husband will be home from work. Your mother-in-law needs to find out what time you’ll be getting to their house for Thanksgiving dinner. And you don’t give any response. You are now the Most Frustrating Person on the Planet and people are cursing your name. Congratulations.

Now, lest I leave you with your head hanging, hands wringing, and you walking away feeling like the suckiest of all sucky communicators {because that wouldn’t be very helpful, would it?}, let’s be honest: The truth is we could all use some work on our communication skills and habits. I’m more positive than my last pregnancy test {don’t get any ideas—that was four years ago} that I’ve committed at least two or three of these communication no-no’s in the past 24 hours. So what can you do in this crazy digital age to enhance communication and thus build better relationships with everyone you know—whether it be your spouse, your best friend, your parents, your boss, your kid’s teacher, your hair stylist, or your cubicle-mate? Well, here you go…

Practical Ways to Communicate Like a Pro With Everyone You Know (and thus not make people hate your guts):

  • Don’t gossip. You’re not in junior high. (And if you are, I’m sorry. Life does get better.)
  • Go to the source. Whether you just need clarity or are highly offended, don’t chatter behind their back. For the LOVE. A few years ago I abruptly and painfully lost a very close friendship because she (apparently) misinterpreted my passion and was offended by my delivery. Instead of coming directly to me with her hurt, she went to others, badmouthed me, joined my naysayers, and never spoke to me again…all in response to a message that wasn’t even directed at her in the first place. Like I said, GO to the source. Backstabbing is never the right move. {Yeah, I said never. Put away your knife and sue me.}
  • Don’t communicate something publicly if it’s better spoken privately. You’re meeting a friend for a movie? Private message or text. We don’t need to know what we weren’t invited to. Upset by a comment someone made to you? Private message. Because what’s more awesome than one angry person is a whole mob ready to join in. Want the world to know how much you adore your wife and think she is the bomb-diggity? Definitely post to her timeline. (Ahem.) But please don’t use ridiculous words like bomb-diggity. For realz.
  • Be specific. Vagueness is lame.
  • Be clear. Don’t confuse.
  • Be concise. Don’t say too much. (I know. My apologies.)
  • Think before you speak. Or type. Or text. Or press send.
  • If someone calls you (as IF) or sends you a text, email, or Facebook message and asks a question that merits an answer, REPLY TO THEM, even if just to let them know you just don’t have an answer (yet). Whatever you do…
  • Do NOT tell them you never got the text or message. Because A) that’s a lie, and B) you sound ridiculous.
  • BUT, don’t assume that just because you sent a message, it was read to and attended to. (I know, annoying double-edged sword here.) Because as Kirk’s grandpa was fond of reminding him, to assume only makes an, well, you know.
  • If someone invites you to an event/dinner/a movie, RESPOND with a yes, no, or I dunno. And, as soon as you know whether it’s a nay or yay, tell that person. They’re waiting.
  • Same goes when another person’s logistics depend on your answer. Give them one. You might just be saving them from going over the edge with stress. (Trust me here. I have like 76 kids who are in like 23 different extracurricular activities. Don’t make me cry.)
  • If your plans change, inform all parties involved immediately. It affects their plans, too.
  • Call your friends. Yeah, on your phone. Like, find them in your contacts list and press TALK.
  • Don’t nag. Dripping faucet, anyone?
  • Initiate conversations. Don’t always wait for someone to communicate with you.
  • If you are thinking of someone or praying for them, tell them. A brief message can communicate much.
  • If you are frustrated with someone, either build a freaking bridge and get over it, or work it out with them. That means a conversation must be had. In person, if possible. Text conversations? No bueno for this.
  • When talking face-to-face, look them in the eye (but don’t stare too intently, because that communicates →CREEPSTER←). Nod your head. Unfold your arms. Don’t interrupt. And don’t walk away until the conversation is over.

So, did you get all that? You’re such a good listener. (Sorry, that’s another rule: Don’t patronize.) Sure, it’s a lot to mull over, but I think we owe it to ourselves and each other if we’re going to have any shot at real, meaningful, and thriving relationships in this digital day and age. So put down the phone—or maybe pick it up—and make communication a proper priority, because as quickly as a lack of, mis-, or poor communication can destroy a relationship, renewed communication can restore it. And because I want to follow my own advice, I want to know what you’re thinking: What Rules of Communication (especially in this digital- and social-media driven era) would you add to the list? Please share. I’m listening.

The right word at the right time
    is like a custom-made piece of jewelry,
And a wise friend’s timely reprimand
    is like a gold ring slipped on your finger.

Reliable friends who do what they say
    are like cool drinks in sweltering heat—refreshing!

Like billowing clouds that bring no rain
    is the person who talks big but never produces.

-Proverbs 25:11-14, The Message

8 thoughts on “Say WHAT?

  1. Susan

    Great lessons here! Could add, think before you “check in” at the party and “tag” everyone else who are there with you. Everyone can’t always be invited, but it shouldn’t have to be their face(book) to broadcast it.


    1. heidi Post author

      Great point, Susan. I don’t get invited to much anymore (waaaaaa), so it’s super fun to see what all I’m not invited to with friends I used to hang with! And by super fun I mean not fun at all.


  2. Sunshine O'reilly

    Pretty sure I’ve perfected the passive aggressive no-no. I suck at communication…I think it’s because I don’t want to communicate with the idiots I don’t want to communicate with. Does that make a shred of sense?


  3. Heidi G

    I hate vague posting about personal problems on social media. If you need help or prayer or an ear enough to ask for it then throw me a bone and tell me why. If you don’t want to post details then it’s probably not something everyone in the (media) universe needs to know. Call folks directly and be honest about what you need. You’ll get it! I don’t want to guess what your problem is — and if you make me guess it’ll probably be worse than what’s really happening. Coy is not cool in this case.


    1. heidi Post author

      OOOOh, good. One thing I am NOT guilty of. I ask for prayer for everything. And as long as people keep praying and loving on us, I’m going to keep asking! Love praying for one another. One of the best things about the Body of Christ.

      I think being “coy” in cases like these is an attempt to protect one’s pride and make us fish for more. Yeah, not cool.


  4. Nancy H

    I would like to add another media age communication no-no: When with other people who are trying to use the “old-fashioned” form of communication (face-to-face, mouth-to-ears in person, please put your device down and be in the conversation. Makes the other person feel unimportant and not worth listening to when the would-be receiver of intended communication has his/her nose buried in their device scrolling through whatever. Not to mention, it is just bad manners.


    1. heidi Post author

      YES! This is especially important to teach to our kids. I know that my non-cell-phone-owning kids often get interrupted or ignored when they’re trying to have face-to-face conversations with their friends who DO have phones and stay on them 24/7. It’s just plain rude, and we have to teach kids that.


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