Technology makes communication harder. I know in a lot of ways technology helps us stay in touch with old friends, or stay connected to family that live elsewhere, or it gives us time to reflect and edit how we communicate. But in terms of talking about difficult topics, in terms of talking about the stuff that is really hard, technology actually makes those conversations worse.
Regularly I see clients who are struggling with their romantic partner or with friends because they try to process big issues, areas of deep conflict, over text message or e-mail. And there’s usual a justifying story of how using that medium gives them the space and the time they need to really think through what they want to say. However, I find that often that is simply a story. That with the anonymity of writing on a screen they don’t have to look into the eyes of the other person, and see how the words they are saying are in real time impacting the listener. And when we get an e-mail or text message that is hard to read, I hear from many clients how their first inclination isn’t to breathe and process but fire a message back as quickly as possible.
And yet, even with the inherent delay in communication through technology, which could give us time to process and reflect, instead we often dwell. Dwelling is when we fixate on what someone says, and as we fixate we construct narratives about what it means about them, what it means about us, and how it brings up all our past wounds. Dwelling is not the same as self-reflection. Self-reflection involves calming ourselves down rather than getting more amped up. Self-reflection involves trying to understand where the other person’s intentions end and my own stuff begins. Self-reflection involves owning what is my stuff and not putting it on the other person. This is the opposite of dwelling.
And even in writing these blog posts, there is a way in which I don’t get to see how my words impact you the reader in real time. I don’t get to self-edit as I go, rather you as the read have the reaction and thoughts that you have, and if you choose to share them with me I may be able to change what I typed after the fact, or apologize, but I can’t change the fact of that what I wrote impacted you in the way that it did. It’s a risk I take every time I write a blog post.
So please, next time you’re thinking about sending that text message or e-mail consider if this conversation would be better had over the phone or even better, in person.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.