Communicating About Communication: The Value of Learning When to Ask a Question

The bulk of your social interactions consist of communicating with others. You do it through personal interactions, phone calls, emails and social media updates. Sometimes you are communicating directly to someone else and can see their face, other times you cannot. Lots of the time, you are not even aware of the subtle things that people are picking up from you. They might be making an assumption based on your body language, or on your use of punctuation in your status update.  Many people forget how important the art of communication actually is, and lots of us have just plain forgotten some of the basics. Furthermore, there is a higher emphasis placed on it in some progressive communities that is not shared with more traditional communities. This can create problems.

There are some things that I have been noticing lately about the art of communication and how infrequently people are actually taking advantage of their wonderful ability to ask questions and seek the truth. Most importantly, it is becoming clear that many of us are just not sure when to admit to ourselves that we do not know what someone else is thinking, before we take an action based on an assumption that we made about their reality.

One of the most painfully obvious examples is the over-use of texting and the assumptions that it can create, which only end up creating further assumptions that then get layered on top of the old ones to make little assumption babies that breed nothing but chaos.

We have all made this mistake. We send someone a long and what we believe to be heartfelt text. We get a curt reply, and we assume that the person is angry, disinterested, judgmental, or anything else. We then base our next action on that assumption. The person could have been stuck in traffic that just started to move as they began to answer, the person could have just gotten horrible news from someone and done all they could to text us at all, or the person may actually be disinterested. The point is that we do not know, and we have to ask. Asking directly is the only way to find out. The only way.

Another completely horrifying thing is that someone might not text us back at all. This is just utter chaos and confusion for all involved. They must be avoiding us, they must be sleeping with someone else, they must be telling us indirectly that we are the scum of the earth and they never want to see us again. Or, our text didn’t go through. But it makes far more sense to assume the worst and get a little resentful at them for not answering our infallible text message.

Then the person who didn’t answer, for whatever reason,  picks up on your resentment and make their own assumptions. They act accordingly. Thus, chaos and misunderstandings are born and nurtured and sent off to an Ivy league school for the preservation of their future.

This type of thing is hard to catch when you are doing it yourself, and very easy to see in someone else. The thing to remember is that you always should be aware of when you are making an assumption based on less-than-enough evidence. And you should learn to ask questions.

Now, here is the problem. Asking questions seems easy enough, it’s nothing like trying to leap from one high building to the next, watching the cars crawling like ants below. But then again, it is an awful lot like that. You are taking a chance, you are entering the unknown. You are leaping from something you know to something that you are not sure you can reach, because you are not even sure what it is.

All texting issues aside, there are countless others. There is no way to bring clarity to them all; but one key thing to keep in mind is that if you are using a big word that has lots of meanings, such as love or relationship, you cannot have a clear conversation without establishing the details.

Most people are not psychic. If you say that you want to have a relationship with someone, they might agree, not knowing what that even means for you. They think it means what they think it means, and you think it means what you think it means. If you say open relationship, these issues multiply by about a thousand.

Because everyone has different ideas. Everyone things these ideas are obvious. But so do the people they are with. And this, to say the least, can cause some problems. The same is true for committed relationships. No one knows your boundaries, no one knows your triggers. They know what they know, and they are hoping to God that it is the same thing that you mean.

The main point is that it is possible to acknowledge how scary asking questions can be, and to do it anyway. Maybe it is embarrassing to tell your partner that you don’t mind if they flirt with people in public, as long as they go home with you. Maybe it is embarrassing to tell your partner that even though you don’t mind if they are intimate with other people, you would prefer that they are focused on you when you are together, and that they would give you a heads up if they were planning on being with anyone else. Instead of dealing with this embarrassment, you might want to just say “Let’s be in an open relationship,”  or “Let’s be in a relationship,” but this is saying nothing about what you expect from it. You have to ask the questions. You have to state the details. Most importantly, you have to know when you are making assumptions.

The past is a tricky thing. It is gone, but it is also always present; at least, the most painful and pertinent parts. If terrifying and harmful things have happened to you, then the slightest reminder of those things in the present can sometimes call those feelings back in full-force. If you say something vague, and your partner things they understand that you mean, they may act on those assumptions and it can cause a major problem for you, who has just been triggered. Learning your triggers is up to you; communicating your triggers is up to you; it always has been and always will be.

The easy thing to forget is that big words mean a lot, and there are countless definitions. Look up the definition of loquacious and you will find one thing, look up the definition of love and you will find another. You cannot assume that your partner or your friends can understand you and your triggers if you do not explain the details. You cannot expect that yo know theirs unless you ask for them.

It is somewhat of a one-sided street. If you understand the importance of talking about communication, you may be one of a pair of lovers or friends who is in that particular loop. They may not ask what you mean by “I love you,” and the moment where it is first said is perhaps the wrong time to ask blatantly, “what do you mean by that?” However, if they get mad at you the next day for saying you love someone else over the phone, you may realize that you need to ask them what they meant by saying it to you. Did they mean that they expect you to no longer say it to others? This is something that some people include in “I love you” and that others do not.

The key is to know when you have made an assumption. They are like the latest flu that is all over the news. You can keep your eye out for flu symptoms to avoid catching it; keep your eye out for symptoms of assumptions. Most importantly, if something does happen, such as a misunderstanding about a text message or the use of a big word, make a point to communicate about communicating. Tell the person that you acknowledge there has been an assumption that has led to the misunderstanding, and learn to talk about how to prevent this in the future. If you establish the grounds of communication between you and those who are most likely to have misunderstandings based on assumptions, such as lovers and dramatic friends, then you are going to be changing your world for the better.

It is something you are doing for humanity that you may never get credit for. You are teaching people that it is safe to jump from the building of asking a question to the building of dealing with the answer. You might not get an award, but you are helping to heal the gaping wound in society that has built up around this issue. And you are, most importantly, learning about your own triggers and shortcuts to your past traumas that you can communicate to your partner or friends so that they are, at least, aware of them.


3 thoughts on “Communicating About Communication: The Value of Learning When to Ask a Question

  1. Thanks, Milo! It’s always so great to get positive feedback from people. If there’s any issues you would like to see discussed here, just let me know. Your photos are amazing, I still have to figure out how to add some here, I’m only just starting to get the hang of wordpress 🙂

  2. Love the part about “triggers” and stating them to someone. If the person accepts them, all is well, but when someone uses them against you, it can be more painful than when they were first done.

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