Hello–I’ve been thinking about what is good communication.
Recently I got overwhelmed-angry from an accumulation of strained interactions with people who are new to me, here in our new town in Oregon. Not sure if it could be described as an autistic meltdown, anger attack, going negative social spoons, just over-exhaustion. Maybe d, all of the above.
My new housemate-friend asked me how my day was, and I said, “Pretty good.” Then I amended it to sad, and I explained that I had been angry and didn’t like myself.
But it was late afternoon. I was feeling better and starting to like myself more again.
“It’s ok to be angry,” my housemate said.
“Yeah, I agree. It’s ok to be angry,” I said. “But not to be mean.”
My friend understood. It was vague–I didn’t say how I was mean or to who. Mostly to myself.
what is good communication
The common denominator for all my day’s difficult communication interactions is me. Yes, I have a hard time peopleing. But I’m smart, caring, and good with language. So it wasn’t just me.
According to your experience and values, what is good communication? Here are some traits I like.
- slower paced–I prefer chill over frenetic
- topics I enjoy
- balance in who talks how much
- clarity with a small amount of fruitful confusion
- acknowledging who the other person is
- something I haven’t already heard a lot
- possibility of insight
- common ground
power in groups
I can’t turn off paying attention to power in groups. Even small groups, like three people. I think about power all the time.
As we interact, I ask a lot of questions in my head.
- Who is being heard?
- Whose opinions are valued here?
- Who is moving the conversation forward? Does one person consistently have the reigns?
- Are women, nonbinary people, people of color, queer people, disabled people, fat people, kids, and elders being respected?
- Are the people with the most power recognizing their power and sharing it?
I think about these questions afterward also. If something doesn’t feel good to me, often it’s because one or more of these things was off.
There can be different reasons to have a conversation. I like to connect with vulnerability and share what’s most important to us. Building relationship can be sweet too. It can set the scene for sharing resources later.
The conversation that set off my upset yesterday was with someone who talked about 90 or 95% of the conversation. Ming and I were more of an audience.
It felt sad because toward the end he said, “I look forward to continuing this dialog!” like we should meet again. I was thinking but didn’t say–our dialog never began. He asked a few questions toward the beginning of the conversation. But that seemed more so he could figure out what to pontificate about for the rest of our visit. Not to really know who we are. It was a monologue.
He wasn’t sharing his power. It felt violent. Not like he was hating on us or being mean directly in what he was saying. More that it’s violent to talk for 90 or 95% of the time, unless we agreed to that beforehand for some reason.
Ming and I held his truth kindly and gingerly. He never heard our truth at all.
“I knew something was wrong. I thought you were getting bored,” Ming said afterward.
“No, I was getting angry,” I said.
I explained to Ming what upset me about the conversation, and we talked about the irony of what is good communication. This person has written books about communication. And he’s missing basic things about how to respect people, the very basic root of communication.
“That guy doesn’t understand things that I understood when I was five years old, that I needed to survive,” I explained to Ming. “Women do these things all day, caring for others. Men start to try to figure them out and write books about their wild discoveries. It’s bullshit.”
I know gender is mostly a scam. But then I encounter so many cis white guys who dominate conversations thoughtlessly, pontificate without regard to how long the other person has been listening, and mansplain reality to me like I just showed up on earth.
Wow, fascinating. Yes, you’ve discovered such important things.
It gives me pause. It makes me think of something I love, the Audre Lorde questionnaire by Divya Victor.
Talking with the elder white man author was an experience of tyranny, of the kind I spend my life swallowing, almost every day. Yes, I have been socialized that my truth doesn’t matter.
I didn’t wrestle this guy to the ground, to grab the conversational reigns from him. It was a first meeting, and I went with the flow. But that going with the flow can get me in trouble. That’s what I did in Las Vegas. I don’t want to look up and years have gone by, of me going with the flow.
It’s so hard to break a pattern of being a doormat. And if I don’t speak up, he learns nothing. He walks away still thinking his way of doing conversation is ok. He will do this to the next persons and the next persons.
how we think
Was I supposed to act like him? He would quote famous people and experts, then say how they were Harvard educated, like that matters to me. He mentioned cognitive development levels, like there’s one hierarchical path of how to think.
Yes, there is one path of how white men who publish books and are welcome in academia think. I have the choice–I can learn how to play that game and try to play it better. Or I can float off to be myself and make art, blog, make zines, and do community. I’ve chosen to live. I’m not a man and don’t communicate like one.
It makes me think of how as an undergrad, I loved philosophy. Ethics was fun for me. I signed up to be a philosophy minor. But I found that I was more of a B student than an A student in philosophy. So I didn’t stick around.
I don’t think I got Bs because I wasn’t smart enough to get an A. Philosophy isn’t smart enough to recognize the intelligence of people who think and talk differently from rich white men. Often there were two or three women in a class of 30. So I drifted off to write poetry.
But every woman and nonbinary person who shows up to do philosophy and gets Bs, then floats away, is leaving that dude-heavy philosophy department unchanged. So then the next lady and enby who walk in excited about ideas, also can’t stay.
Or some people are so good at code switching that they can be one gender, and then talk like another for a good grade. But that’s an extra skill. I couldn’t do all of that.
what is good communication
There is not one hierarchical path of learning how to think, with cognitive development milestones, and academic rich white cis guys at 10 out of 10 thinkers. No way, Jose. There’s not one path.
I’m seeing bright, colorful fireworks exploding in the sky. Such multiplicity. How to think is countless glowing fiery paths, and we can follow all or none of them.
It reminds me of years ago when my community member told me she read a great article about the stages of spiritual development. She offered to send it to me, and I had an intense pain-reaction to the whole idea of stages of spiritual development.
Where is a baby, on that scale? Where is a Native person who lives in community in a jungle and does ritual 20 times a day? How about a pagan priestess? A child monk in Thailand? How about my own self as a teenage girl, worshiping the moon with no guidebook?
I don’t need milestones or to compare myself to others in a magazine. I praise Mother God and respect all people as we are now. Who made the spiritual development scale? Was it a team of diverse people, of different backgrounds, disabilities, ages, genders, and amounts of power, brilliant in a hundred different ways? Or was it a cis white man who writes books, who has taken hold of power and authority by silencing others?
I met a lot of violent people while I spent ten years in the peace movement. Still recovering!
I would meet a famous white man author, and he would look through me like I was a ghost. He would turn to whoever was stroking his ego for more pets.
Wow. I would think, “Oh my god. He can’t see past his own nose.” He’s famous for compassion, but he’s mired in his own experience to the exclusion of everyone else’s. People trip over themselves to offer him something to drink and praise his latest book. But it’s mostly a facade.
He took that power at the expense of people like me and Ming.
Our silence isn’t neutral. People with less power live in silence. Crazy women and gendernauts who get arrested for yelling in the street are my people. I’m with them.