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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What happened to communication? The slippery slope of lousy language

Poor communication skills have reached an all-time low. This past week, NPR reported that many members of congress have the communication skills of a 10th grader. It used to be the question, “Why can’t Johnny, or Janie, read?” Now the question is why can’t they read, write or speak coherently? It isn’t a literacy issue or problem of a lack of education. Inexcusably poor communication is being exhibited by those with advanced degrees and a good education.
Lousy communication, and shabby language skills, isn’t simply an inability to speak or write correctly. There is also a pervasive and insidious inability to anticipate or understand reactions which result when certain words or phrases are used in conversation or communications.

On the internet, examples of epic communication failure happen daily. Every hour of the day, someone makes a seemingly innocent comment and unintentionally creates a stir. WHY? Because they aren’t able to express themselves or actually state what they mean to say. And then there is that special species of internet creature called a troll, who lives to cause uproar on social media sites or webpage comment sections. They use communication like a weapon. Not a rapier wit or a pen that is mightier than the sword, mind you. These people use words like crude and blunt objects. The messages are ragged, coarse, and ugly.
Poor communication is a multi-faceted problem. I will present three different types of poor communicators. There are so many more, but I only have so much time to delve into this topic today. I will build upon this theme again at a later date.

“That’s not what I meant!”  But that is what you said.

The first type of poor communicator- I will call this person the ABRASIVE COMMUNICATOR, is the guy or gal who apparently has little to no insight into the level of inappropriateness their communications convey. They really don’t “get it”, and aren’t able to understand how rude or obnoxious they sound. They routinely step in the “stuff” and are stunned and surprised when their facebook friends delete them. They don’t get the hint that the words they use are generally offensive or inappropriate. 
A chronic inability to understand what is socially acceptable in communication is often at the heart of misunderstandings that can cause relationships, and even marriages, to break apart. Just as with the law, ignorance is no excuse. It is called, GET A CLUE!  Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result, is the definition of insanity.

#*&^#!!@%*^%  and if you don’t like that, *&#%$%%*#!”

The second type of individual is the ANTI-SOCIAL COMMUNICATOR. These folks are hard to manage in any situation, be it work or personal life. Their communication style is more than abrasive: it is downright toxic, abusive, and mean. Most of the nasty remarks and vitriol that comes out of the mouths, or pens, of these people can challenge the most patient and laid-back individuals. Insults, jabs, crude slurs or nasty remarks are their trademark- think Rush Limbaugh.  Many of them consider themselves to be humorous or superior. In reality, they are usually pompous bullies.

“I have an MBA and I know everything about anything and I can do what I want, even if I’m wrong.”

The third type of poor communicator is not as rude as the two former communicators, but just as incredibly annoying and difficult to deal with. It is the CLUELESS COMMUNICATOR. Everyone has come in contact with someone who is simply unable to express a thought or idea that makes sense. Random words or inexplicable sentences are strung together without any logic, thought,  or meaning. Working with someone who can’t write a simple email, let alone a presentation or complex deliverable, can drive a normal person insane; especially if they refuse to accept that they can’t write well and that the work they are putting forward is garbage.

I don’t know what happened to communication in the last 30 years, but I honestly believe that something has gone terribly wrong on many levels. Poor grammar, inconsistency, lack of attention to detail, careless mistakes in spelling and usage are just beginning of the list of shameful communication practices.  

Perhaps most people don’t care or aren’t aware, or maybe they are too distracted to notice; but I, and many others like me, notice and we are mad as hell. It is awful to see a website with mistakes and depressing to know that someone either didn’t care enough or wasn’t smart enough to do the job right. Is there no shame or conscientiousness?  How did that happen? When did it become tolerable?
So we have our three prototypes of poor communicators. All three are annoying and maddening, for different reasons. At this point there are probably more words on the internet than grains of sand on the beach; but what is being written, and how it is communicated, is a collective linguistic and literary sea of sewage? Are we valuing quantity over quality?  Does anyone THINK before they speak or write?  Is John or Jane Q. Public concerned with how they express themselves? All signs point to ABSOLUTELY NOT! Proper and civil communication has little to no value, and it is destroying our ability to understand and be understood.

So what can anyone do to improve communication in their personal and professional life?  First and foremost, PAY ATTENTION! THINK! REFLECT! If people would put a little more thought into the words that came out of their mouths, or the things they wrote, and how they wrote them- I sincerely believe it would create a more insightful and civilized atmosphere, which in turn would  improve intellectual capacity, human relationships and quality of life.  

Call me crazy, but I dream of a day when words are seen as the valuable and precious things they truly are. If the average person could gain an ounce of appreciation and passion for proper, correct, and polite communication, imagine how things would change! How amazing would it be if there was a movement towards a more civil, thoughtful, mature, and professional style of communication? If that happened, I honestly believe it would change the world for the better on so many levels.

Change often begins one person at a time. Before speaking or writing, take a moment and think about the real value of quality, civil, and concise communication.