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Three Steps to Turn Everyday Get-Together(s) into Transformative Gatherings:A Ted Talk by Priya Parker
The following are excerpts that I wrote between 2013 and 2015, some of which were included in my novel, Between Transitions.
I skated through my twenties on the precipice of a series of "very nearly": I very nearly kept good jobs, and I very nearly nurtured good relationships, and I very nearly became the person that—somewhere inside me inching its way to the rise, and very nearly surfacing for air—I knew I was capable of being. There are glimpses of that person, they are probably too few and too subtle for anyone other than myself to have noticed, nevertheless I know he’s there, because I’ve seen him, and sometimes he and I meet at the purview of the precipice that never comes to be. I was thirty when I moved back home. Everything about it felt familiar. The two old houses nestled artfully surrounded by a nursed backwoods just out of sight of the dead end road. The small, German town secluded in obscurity, still lush with a small-town kindred, and the rolling river near the town center. It was exactly as I remembered it, everything, that is, save me.
I have had a guard up now for over a year, and I’m not sure how to get around it. Living with this kind of a demur is not something that I have acclimated to yet, and honestly I’m not sure that I ever will, so obviously I am having trouble getting around it; and, respectively, I open up only when queried, and even then it’s not really all that meaningful. I tried to work through it, literally, by throwing myself into my work:
Until recently I read and reviewed independently published books for a journal based in California, a job that I loved but couldn’t maintain with my growing list of projects, since my move back to Texas. I also write short stories with the intent of their publication in literary journals. I fell into the work many years ago while living in a small town in Idaho. I worked, for a short time, in a potato processing plant, maintaining a packaging machine from 8:00PM to 8:00AM, every day, and all week. The plant closed one weekend for Easter, and I drove the fifty miles to the nearest, largest town and spent the day, and ultimately the weekend in a coffeehouse near the Snake river. I wrote about it; a travelogue, if you will, and left it for the café owners. When they saw me again they asked me to publish it in the local monthly magazine - which I did, and I have been writing professionally ever since. I tried to write a novel shortly after I started writing for Idaho Falls Magazine, although it was considerably more challenging than I expected, and I ultimately chopped it up and rewrote the chapters to sell as short stories, hence my transition into short fiction. I haven’t even considered working on another novel until recently, when I moved back to Texas. And I’ve been writing it now for a month, or so. It’s surprising how much more straightforward the process has been this time around. I guess working as both a writer and a reader for a number of years makes a substantial difference.
I have learned that I write better when I’m surrounded by people, in public places, when I can feel the different energies of people that wander in and out of the café throughout the day. I’ll often engage in conversation with people, which can be counterproductive, considering it takes away from my writing time, but when I set aside, hide in the corner of the coffeehouse, and allow my thoughts to spill onto the page like an overflow of expression pouring out and onto the surface, I can feel both the complement of the people surrounding me and the recognition of myself, in the moment. As I reflect on the story later—and perhaps even years later, as an old man—I’ll remember always the feeling, the only thing routinely lost in retrospect.
I buried myself again in my writing, this time immersing myself into it entirely. Overthinking the situation I was more concerned that switching off that conversation, and reengaging with someone else would be overtly insulting, so, instead, I focused entirely upon my own expression of thought. Although, it felt, suddenly, as if an ominous wind had swept over me, a wind that had not affected anyone else in the café, except for me.
Instantly I became overwhelmed with a desire to know and to do nothing. I continued to sit, still, in the coffeehouse, my body seemed unaffected, although a fog had enveloped my mind, infiltrating my limbic system and paralyzing my emotions. I felt nothing, and yet I was consumed by a hopelessness. Feeling the nothing transgressed both my soul and my intellect; prescribing feeling nothing to a prospect of a meditative nothingness—actively thinking nothing, as if nothing could be objectively contemplated. I stared only, ahead. Occasionally I would turn and attempt to create stories about the people surrounding me. This, however, would turn out to be an exercise in futility. I gave up only to give the impression that I was watching people, in order to give the impression of normalcy. I believe that our routines, our lives—are made possible, or just, and more discerningly—easier, knowing that we are connected to everything, and to everyone; many people ignore, or have forgotten that idea simply because it is commonplace, and when a new standard replaces an old the new one will, eventually, become so normal that the old will seem peculiar. Depression occurs when our connection is severed. Depressives have a unique, albeit unfortunate, relationship with the network that our consciousness is hardwired to, because only depressives are capable of recognizing both the affiliation to, and the separation of that connection. Antidepressants increase the biological component, the serotonin, which bridges the corporeal with the ethereal.
Have you ever been in the position, while in conversation, where you make a seemingly blanket statement and whomever you’re conversing with responds with something like, “You don’t know that!” Say you made a character judgement about a mutual acquaintance, or something along those lines, and you were called out on it. I am quite certain that every one of us, at some point, has either made a character judgement or called someone out for making one. Have any of you ever thought about the senselessness of that response? You don’t know that! Because, like, of course I don’t bloody know that, and neither do you—so why do we say it, or any number of similar commands? Simply, it is because we unconsciously think in absolutes. It is more common, when we hear someone make a statement, to assume that they think they know everything, when, in actuality, none of us are speaking beyond the purview of our own perspectives. So, again, why in that case do we question others, and ourselves?
The way that people communicate with one another has changed steadily over the last ten years, and each of us has our own understanding of what that looks like, exactly. However the basics of conversation have not changed, and I believe that at the foundation of our perceived misunderstanding is a growing lack of effort, or the willingness to effort the time that is required to develop relationships, and to be better communicators. We have seen at the foundation of our current digital world order a growing, and marketed desire to simplify our lives in their entirety, and no generation maneuvered that better that better than Millennials.
I need to interrupt myself briefly for a moment to explain something so that throughout the course of this series on Communication we can all remain on the same page, at least in reference to the perspective that I am applying certain understandings. We have found ourselves in a position, for the first time, where generational experts find themselves disagreeing with one another regarding generational boundaries such as where does a generation of Millennials end and Generation Y begin. The majority of the public seems to accept that Millennials include everyone between the ages of—roughly—twenty and thirty-seven, and, personally I could not disagree more. Millennials as far as me—and many experts—are concerned fit in between the ages of twenty and twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Frankly the accepted generational boundary of fifteen years that has established generational lines for the last sixty plus years was interrupted by the invention of the smartphone. 2007 began a new era in human understanding, and evolution, and everything changed. So, when I speak of Millennials I am referring to people between the ages of twenty and—we’ll say—twenty-eight.
There is far more going on during the act of communication, and building/developing relationships than simply an exchange of words between two, or more people. Communication scientists and theorists developed a model to explain interpersonal communication called the Interpersonal Communications Model. The necessity of such models became clear when it became clear that what we are saying “between the lines” ends up shaping those lines, which offers insight into why some people are effective communicators in some situations and not in others. In our infancy, as we are learning about talk and developing our words and discovering our selves we learn how to react to the way that others are reacting to us, and we start to realize that there is a difference between us and them, and the way that they speak back to us, as a result we begin to develop a narrative of self, which is followed later in our childhood with the notion that we need to build relationships, and develop connections with other people, and much later in life the ability to influence people; and we do so in order for us to understand what’s going on around us, and how we are going to be treated by others.
“What’s going on? What’s going to happen next? How am I being treated?”
There is a Sender/Message --> Channel --> and Receiver (SMCR) in the Interpersonal Communication Model and it wasn’t until the 1950’s that we began putting the emphasis of communication on the Receiver and not the Sender, the direction of our conversations, and the means in which we actually communicate is largely dependent on how the Receiver reacts to the message based on how the message was interpreted or misinterpreted. When two people are communicating we are not talking about a topic only, we are developing micro-definitions of self, who we are is being revealed when we talk, and in so many more ways than the words we choose, which are sometimes themselves manipulated by either Semantic or Psychological Noise, the meanings or prejudices that we maintain for any number of reasons of those words.
In every conversation between yourself and someone else there are always six people also involved in the conversation:
In Face-to-face situations communication is inevitable. We are always combining the use of words and non-verbals when interacting with one another, and in every situation a message whether we intended to or not is always sent, whether it’s as intentional and situationally obvious as a once over or as slight as the energy or vibes that surround us at any particular moment. What we are saying—or not saying—and how we are expressing it are related to one another, and they can either enforce or contradict one another, inasmuch every conversation is always about content and relationship, we are always talking about a topic and we are also always communicating about how we are treating one another.
“Interpersonal communication is a process whereby two or more people within a particular context and who are aware of each other act together to create and manage shared meanings, through non-conscious display or conscious sending and receiving of messages using a shared repertoire of verbal and non-verbal symbols.” ~ Professor Dalton Kehoe
I’ve always found communication, and the way that we communicate with one another to be incredibly fascinating and equally as important, but few people seem to acknowledge it in the same way that I do. When I decided to write a blog series on Communication I made the decision to approach it academically from the perspective of a scientist or a professor, as if the intricacies of how we interact with one another, how we develop relationships: how we communicate, and essentially who we are can be qualified. Our moods, our emotions, our experiences, our traumas, our fears, our anxieties are all reflected in the way that we communicate with another, and in our desire to connect with each other. I believe that our willingness to effort in the means that we communicate and develop relationships will affect upon us the means to open up to connecting with one another in ways that we have not yet explored.
Communicating with each other—how we develop and maintain relationships—envelopes so much more of our day-to-day lives than most of us really realize. In general the intention of communication is to convey a thought using verbal and nonverbal techniques the meaning of which describes your idea in a way that you can only assume I will understand, and you maintain the assumption that I have both heard and understood your intention—what you intended to express—from the cache of information that I keep based on my own experiences without having been misled or misunderstood in order to develop the same understanding of the thought that you intended to convey.
If, for whatever reason, I don’t understand the concept that you have tried to express in the way that you have tried to express it you might assume that the fault is mine, and I will likely assume the same; and that’s only if we both realize that the thought was unsuccessfully expressed. A circumstance that Psychologist Cordelia Fine has coined as Vain Brain in her book, A Mind of Its Own, where Fine also points out that, “when asked, we will modestly and reluctantly confess that we are more honest or better at something, and we rarely consider ourselves at fault…”—this is also known as a Self-Serving Bias (an idea that some might consider pseudo intellectual bullshit—psychology is not counterintuitive to religion). And, also assuming that our moods, triggers, and stigmas have not indirectly influenced your intention, as well as how well you might have expressed yourself nonverbally.
Aristotle in his work The Rhetoric suggests that talk is about persuasion, about influencing people. Most of us simply express ourselves in some manner of small talk much of which is supported only by the means of whomever we are communicating with decides—whether consciously or unconsciously--to interpret, and accept as our intention, and we continue throughout our lives as if very little has happened, or with the assumption that we were understood exactly as we intended. However, more often than not, we weren’t. Osmo A. Wiio, a Finnish professor of communication, humorously suggests:
How many times can most of us recall while engaged in conversation a happenstance where we’ve finished speaking, and the other starts talking about something that is so outlandishly bizarre, at least in regards to a response, that we accept that they could not have possibly understood what we might have been trying to express? It has happened so often in certain friendship circles of mine that my friends and I have coined a term for it: Organic Conversation. It’s kind of like playing Telephone and trying to make sense of how it is that we went from Orangutan from Jungle Book to Orange Peel Lemonade; though we all know that there was, at least, one person in the group that intentionally manipulated the direction, otherwise the game of Telephone is a lot like the redundancy of playing tic-tac-toe.
I have read about-, studied, and taken courses on Communication because, along with understanding our emotions, I cannot fathom a more important, and more necessary tool to have than being a good communicator. Our society, well the nature of our humanity is to change; we change, or grow, or develop, or evolve, or learn, or transition, however you are willing to recognize it without being triggered. Throughout the course of a single lifetime—my lifetime for example—I cannot express to you how many times my surroundings have changed, the people around me have changed, my careers have changed, my perspectives, and my beliefs they have all changed, and it’s true for most of you, even if, say: you were born, grew up, lived and plan to die in your ‘hometown,’ everything else that you knew, with the one exception, has changed. In fact the only thing in any one of our lives that will never change is that we will always be surrounded by people, the specific people will likely change, but nevertheless there will always be people; we will always be interacting with someone in some regards, and, for that reason alone, the ability to communicate effectively is profoundly important. Still, many of us maintain the Self-Sealing Belief about our role when trying to communicate with someone: when something is going well we take credit for it, and often unconsciously develop the idea that because we facilitated or communicated something well in the past or situationally that we have a talent for it, while if something does not go well we fault the situation, blame someone else, or claim that it may not really be worth out time.
The National Communication Associate did a study titled, “How Americans Communicate.” In which 62% of us claimed that we feel comfortable communicating in general, while 87% of us felt that we were comfortable communicators in our personal relationships, and with our significant others. However, only 42% of Americans felt that we were effective communicators. 42% felt that we said what we meant to say, in the way that we meant to say it, and yet we’re not positive that our intention is getting across. We feel less effective than comfortable. 53% said that a lack of communication was the most frequent cause of a breakup, while 29% said money was the most frequent cause (I mentioned money only because it’s a considerable factor for many of us in our lives). One of the problems is that most of us are not conscious communicators, and we do not often allow for the time to understand what gets in the way of communicating to one another.
When it comes to communicating with one another simple may not always be better, and it’s important, I think, to allow ourselves to address conflict—in the best way possible—without brushing it off as drama as a large number of people are beginning to suggest. It’s important to learn to be more conscious when we are speaking with one another about how we are talking to each other, in order to avoid hardwired reactions, and Self-Sealing Beliefs that will inevitably make things worse—especially if you effort to ignore them.
Since I started writing this blog I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the direction that I would like the blog to take and, I think, because there are so many things that interest me I have accepted the fact that the blog is just going to be more broadly approached then some, and I have to live with that. Though, it has also occurred to me that Relationships and Communication have had a major, and lasting impact on me throughout the course of my life, most of which I’ll explain in some detail throughout a series of blogs that I have decided to attempt regarding Communication. I will be indirectly joined by Professor Dalton Kehoe of York University via his The Great Courses Lecture on Effective Communication Skills, I have watched this course a couple of times now and it remains fascinating to me that regardless of how important I do find academia there is an obvious disconnect between practicality and academia, and the way that people live, and interact, and communicate does not always parallel with the science of it, at least not comfortably, like solving a math proof. I think the way that some professor teach something as practical as communication makes it come off as more of a science—an idea—than an active part of our day-to-day lives, and I hope that these blogs challenges and creates that assumption.
I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.