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  • Sophie Russell

Food for Thought: I Promise, I'm not Slacking. I Just Need to Address Something Important.

My blog is a few hours late this week, but there’s a good reason for it.

I had a post planned, but some things happened personally, some things happened in my communities, and some things happened with friends. At the core of these “things” was a repeated message. So, what was supposed to be this week’s post is moved to next week, and here I am, after I usually post, with something I’m writing on relatively short notice.

First things first. This is NOT me calling anyone out. That is not the purpose. I am not here to spill tea, drag anyone, or point fingers. Tea is too yummy to spill, I don’t have the strength to drag anyone, and pointing fingers is rude.

Second things second. This IS me sharing with you something I’ve learned and shared in a brief period of time. I’m not one for fate or the divine, but repeated messages bear listening to, especially if they are coming over and over in a matter of hours from wildly different sources.

Third things third. I’m going to try to make as much sense as possible, but because this is still quite fresh, I might be a bit mentally scattered. I apologize for that in advance, and I appreciate your patience.

In my home, in my communities, and among friends, I have witnessed and been a party to complete and total breakdowns in communication. These breakdowns can have devastating consequences, and I will be using the MM Romance community as an example (again, keep in mind that I’m not calling anyone out, pointing fingers, dragging, spilling tea, etc.). I’m genuinely using this community as an example, because by and large, it’s one of the most peaceful communities I have ever been a part of, and it serves as an excellent case study.

The MM Romance community has been extremely welcoming, supportive, and open, in my experience. I joined it last February after my surgery, and when I decided to write, the transition was relatively smooth, even if people don’t know my main is different from my pen. I was welcomed both times, and it has made my publishing journey so much easier and more fun.

Also, in my experience, there has been little drama in the MM Romance community, and when drama does happen, it tends to make waves. What I’ve noticed in some of that drama is a breakdown of communication (unless the people are racist, sexist, transphobic, etc: that’s not a communication problem, that’s a problem with morality, which is beyond the scope of this post).

It’s currently 2020, and all of us are living in the timeline where Harambe died and the world is falling into chaos. Right now, the Fanta Menace (also known as Donald Drumpf, a reality television host) is sitting in the White House with his clone-borg children, congratulating himself on a job well done, when more than 200,000 American citizens have died from COVID-19. And that’s only a small portion of the reason this year has been a complete clusterfuck.

You’re probably like, yeah Soph, I’m living it, why are you rehashing it? Well, the folx at CERN who are running the large hadron collider think that they are close to making contact with a parallel universe. In the event that this message makes it there, I want it clear. If you think I’m joking, look it up.

Now, because the response to COVID has been fucked up so epically, a lot of people are staying home, avoiding touching people, and quarantining as they can. Not enough, but the most self-aware among us are. In that, our only real mode of communication is through outlets like calling (ew), texting, social media, and zoom/skype/messenger/etc. Social media seems to be the predominate mode of communication, though.

In text format, you lack other social cues like intonation, inflection, body language, facial expressions, volume, speed, and subtext. This leads to repeated and inevitable breakdowns in communication.

See, when we communicate, there is the what’s said and how it’s said, there is what’s meant and how it’s meant, and there is what’s understood and how it’s understood. We lose so much of that through social media, text, and even video calls! Also, those of us who are neurodivergent aren’t that good at those clues to begin with. It, like typing for me, requires some work arounds.

What I have noticed in the MM Romance community is a they said/they said type of drama. Sometimes, people say things that hurt another’s feelings. This is inevitable in communication—regardless of the medium—but we should strive to avoid it. However, most hurt feelings are from perceptions of rudeness, cruelty, ignorance, etc. This is what we can change.

As humans, we use past experiences to anticipate future outcomes so that we can prepare for potential situations. In doing that, though, there is a tendency to get lost in the repetitive patterns we see. It’s easy to “know how someone will react,” because “historically, they’ve done x, y, and z.” That, my dears, is a logical fallacy, and it’s super easy to fall into. Because this is the way it’s always been, that’s the way it always should or will be.

This logical fallacy doesn’t leave room for growth and change, and it sticks people in boxes of your choosing. People act out to be removed from the box, but of course they would, because they’ve always done this.

This behavior is related to being judgmental, but not precisely that. I would compare it to typecasting people, which is super easy to do, because we see repeated patterns of behavior, and then learn to expect that behavior repeatedly. There is one word in the previous clause that sticks out to me. Do you see it?

Expect.

Expectations are funny little things, and they are rarely communicated, so there are myriad miscommunications based on violating those expectations.

When we expect certain behaviors, we will see them, even if evidence proves us wrong. If you expect someone to be selfish, you will see their purchase of a candy bar as such, because you (and I’m using the royal you, which includes me) are blind to other evidence. Maybe that person bought themselves a candy bar, not from selfishness, but because it’s the one treat that they allow themselves. Maybe they didn’t buy one for you, because you mentioned diabetes runs in your family and you think you might have it. Maybe they didn’t buy one for their child, because their child had a candy bar earlier. But, all you (i.e. we) see is their supposed selfishness.

At this point, you’re probably like, why are you talking in circles? This is the closest you will ever get to see how my brain works, and it’s exhausting. Remember, I apologized earlier, because I’m trying my best to make sense.

When we expect something, we lose sight of other things—namely intentions.

Like expectations, intentions aren’t communicated very often. They usually are only communicated when there has been a breakdown of communication, and the other party usually says something like, “Oh, it’s easy to say that now,” with sarcasm.

We lose sight of intentions, because we expect certain behaviors, and that can lead to a breakdown in communication. Particularly when we don’t have all the other feedback from a conversation.

Someone may think, “I’m being direct, because that saves time and energy. I have three kids to feed, a book to write, a house to clean, and I need to conserve energy where I can. Directness is my option.”

Personally, I like the direct approach, but there are ways to be direct that also take into consideration those who aren’t as direct. More on that in a mo’.

Someone who is the recipient of directness may think, “Sheesh, that was abrupt. It was kind of rude, too. Didn’t they see x, y, and z? Why would they be so rude when I blah, blah, blah.”

That’s a good example of a communication breakdown. And that same type of communication breakdown has been happening repeatedly all around me. Am I expecting it or something?

So, the first person intends to save time and energy while communicating something vital to the second person. The second person receives the message, but their assumptions about how communication happens were violated, so they saw what they expected to see: rudeness.

The second person is less direct in their way of communicating, they are more figurative and try to be gentle. When encountering a direct person, they assume that everyone will or should be gentle and figurative, and that’s not going to happen. The direct person violates that assumption, and when happens, what is the usual outcome? Relying on history to create some expectation of behavior of the direct person.

So now, we have the what is said and how it’s said, and we have the what is understood and how it’s understood. We’re missing the “meant” portion of it. And that’s the crux.

The first person meant to save everyone’s time, they meant to get to the issue quickly, they meant to save energy by being direct. How could second person perceive anything different?

The second person meant a, b, and c through their actions and words. How could first person perceive anything different?

We lose the intentions behind communication, and it’s super easy to do when not faced with the non-verbal cues. So what can we do to change it?

1. Take some time and consider intentions. When your feelings are hurt, before you get upset, angry, sad, or frustrated, pause. Before you react, why are you reacting? What are you reacting to? When you figure that out, it could sound like this: “Person A always takes so long to explain things. It wastes time that I don’t have. They should just come out and say what they mean.” We have the expectation based on history (always takes so long), we have the assumption (They should…), and we have the interpretation of action (It wastes time). The interpretation is the key point. Are they really wasting time? Or are they trying to be considerate of your feelings? You prefer directness, because it gives you something more tangible to consider. But your preferences AREN’T the only ones. Others prefer indirect, or convoluted, or clipped, or whatever it is they prefer. You have to use empathy to look past the gut reaction and see the intention. You have to consider another’s preferences, and if you can’t see anything but rudeness and cruelty, reach out privately for clarification. “When you said this, it seemed like that is what you meant. Is that the case? If not, can you clarify what you meant for me? I don’t want to misunderstand you.” More often than not, the person will be like, “I didn’t mean that. I definitely meant the other. I’m sorry if I didn’t express that the first time.” If they don’t, they may lack emotional maturity, or they may just be cruel. But don’t assume cruelty right off the bat.

2. Forgive yourself and other people for communication breakdowns. It happens, it’s going to happen again and again. Be kind to one another in the process of dealing with a miscommunication. Create a level of safety with forgiveness. People make mistakes, and they may not get the correct answer right off the bat. Forgive, because that is better for you both. That doesn’t mean not holding someone accountable, but it does mean taking the time to address accountability and ways to make the next time better for everyone.

3. Show gratitude. If someone comes to you with a misunderstanding, don’t get angry at them for misunderstanding you. Thank them for coming to you with their concerns. That shows a level of trust and respect that is deserving of gratitude. When someone clarifies how they meant something, don’t just assume they’re lying. Be grateful that they took the time to explain something in a way that makes more sense to you.

4. Create safety in your homes, in your communities, and especially online where people can be free to air grievances. Do this by comporting yourself in a way that is supportive, understanding, and—above all—kind.

Kindness isn’t letting people off the hook or sweeping things under the rug. That’s niceness. We don’t want niceness. We want kindness.

Kindness addresses issues but does so in a way to encourage growth. Kindness also acknowledges internal shortcomings. Kindness does not assume or accuse. Kindness clarifies and communicates. Kindness is using empathy to try to understand, rather than expectations to predict or determine. Kindness doesn’t seek to misunderstand, and kindness is flexible. People who prefer directness may have to scale back on it to communicate with some others. People who prefer subtlety may have to be more direct to communicate with others. Be kind with one another while navigating that, because it’s difficult. Kindness takes up space and time, so practice it. Take the minute you need before flying off the handle, and analyze. Don’t just attribute to malice what can be explained by different preferences.

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