Can we talk?

by Guy Robison, Vice President and PACEY Coordinator

No, seriously…can we? As in: can we communicate?

Communication is a key component in our everyday interactions with others. It’s an exchange of ideas and information, thoughts and feelings. And although many people are very good at talking, they aren’t always good at communicating. Some of the biggest problems we face in our everyday interactions, and in society, can be traced back to poor communication. A misunderstanding or lack of sufficient information.

So we are clear, the following is an editorial. It is my personal opinion and point of view. 

In my professional life I have the opportunity to work with individuals to help improve their communication skills and although our discussions focus primarily on business, the same principles we discuss can be applied to personal and organizational relationships. 

When we talk, when we communicate, we need to be aware of some basic requirements to improve understanding and make sure the meaning in our words is transmitted. It’s the responsibility of the sender to be aware of their audience and use language for the receiver. It’s the responsibility of the receiver to listen with full attention and give feedback so the sender knows the correct message has been received. This is an ever shifting dynamic during the conversation or exchange. 

Face-to-face verbal communication gives us the advantage of reading body language, which for humans, is an important aspect in understanding a message. It’s why now, when so much of our communication is through text and e-mails, that we have a greater chance of misunderstanding. And let’s face it, emoji’s don’t help that much. With social media, we also need to remember some communication needs to take place in private. 

But communication is more than sending and receiving a message. Communication needs to be respectful and open. We all have different backgrounds and experiences that influence our understanding. It’s not just what we say but when and how it is said. It’s being able to ask the difficult question and hear the uncomfortable answer. It’s being able to keep the conversation going until understanding is achieved. 

In my volunteer work, I have the opportunity to present Diversity and LGBTQ Sensitivity trainings. For Diversity, instead of teaching people to be accepting of differences, I prefer to teach recognition of what makes us the same. In one such presentation, I had a tense exchange with one individual fixated on one point.  I could have ignored or dismissed them and concentrated on the group, but that would have defeated the purpose. After a continued back-and-forth exchange, we finally got to the real root of the situation. It wasn’t about being Gay, but being human. I then asked if they could discover the how and why of the situation, and work toward a solution. At the end of the conversation we reached an understanding instead of a wall. It was a small win; however, it is still a win for both.

With the growing divisiveness happening in society today, I think it’s important that we put more energy into improving our communication skills and in coming to together in understanding. 

I participated in the Women’s March this past weekend and am encouraged by the words that were spoken. I’m hopeful that as a society we are moving toward a better tomorrow. However, some other words that I heard afterward prompted this article. 

I was asked why certain groups and organizations participated and what they had to do with a Women’s March.

To me the answer was easy but I also assumed obvious: Because we are all one big group called Humanity. We share one world and we are all in this together. What affects one of us affects all. 

I personally don’t like labels; even though, I understand why we as humans seem to want them. We want neat little compartments in which to place people. By placing them there, it makes us more comfortable. But labels also make it easier for us to divide. To categorize as ‘friend’ or ‘foe’, to place someone in a group called ‘other than me’. It is easier for us to dismiss them as not worthy of our attention or understanding. 

But we aren’t just one thing. We are many and there are bits and pieces of us in a variety of compartments. We can’t put the whole being in one compartment and attach one label. 

I like to think of people as threads. Some of us are silk and some cotton. Some are bright and others neutral. Some bold and strong and others light and delicate. In the infinite combinations possible, we all serve a purpose. Woven together we create this wonderful tapestry of textures and colors called Humanity. When we come together we can achieve great things for the betterment of all of us. And if we don’t, we unravel and come apart. While some people are trying to cut us apart, let’s keep stitching us together. Reach across the aisle, step across the dividing line, and listen to the other side.

And when someone asks, “Can we talk?” offer to communicate.