A Guest Post by Christa Miller
I recently had a disturbing experience: a misunderstanding with a dear friend during which I began to wonder if language could be too communicative.
The cop and the writer
I’ve been a professional writer for almost eight years. My friend has been a professional cop for over 25 years. I tease him about his “trust issues.” He teases me about my “big words.” Our misunderstanding centered, of course, on both.
Some of his words had hurt my feelings. My response hurt his. His communication began to resemble police radio traffic: terse, brief. I went in the other direction, apologizing profusely, multiple times, as clearly and yet as eloquently as I could. I wanted to convince him how deeply I felt my regret, how much I wanted to put it behind us and move on.
Still he didn’t budge, and I finally gave up. He did not seem able to trust what I was telling him. So I agreed with him that professional communication was best for the time being, and I too backed off.
Is my word my bond?
Most of us who blog as part of our businesses have some facility for words. We may not write with Liz’ poetry or Chris Brogan’s sensibility or Amber Naslund’s passion, but we trust our own ability to use the written word to communicate most accurately what is on our minds.
So whether writing is one tool in an arsenal of many, or the form of communication we rely on most, the idea that someone can’t trust our words is a reason to stop and evaluate. Why did the words fail? What does it mean? Was there too much of “us” and not enough of “them”? Does a fundamental communication gulf exist that threatens the whole relationship?
In my case, my writing may have been too honest, too desperate in its quest to be taken at face value. It was based on what I have learned: to use words to clarify. I never stopped to think that in my friend’s world, words are used to conceal. In fact, veteran cops will tell you that the longer someone tries to convince you of something, the more likely it is that s/he is lying. Needless to say, this was not the message I wanted to send.
Doing it their way
Not everyone trusts strong written communication, forceful speeches, or social network websites. Marketers know that the key is to find what people do trust, then use the appropriate tool. So too with individuals and words. This is harder than it looks. Writing and analysis are my strengths, but to talk to my friend the cop, I now need to emphasize using the phone and humor—two of my worst weaknesses.
This is a strong friendship, and I’m willing to make room for an opposite style of communication. But where’s the line? How do you decide when to accommodate, and when to cut your losses?
Invest, Learn, Grow!