Communicating – we do it every day, with words or by withholding them, with our body language, on our phones, via text, FaceTime, email, on Instagram, Google+ (which I still don’t get), Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr (anyone seen those missing letters?) and in an ever increasing number of other ways, but sometimes words can be as hard to decipher as morse code or naval flags. Then we’re left singing this truism from the best musical decade of them all, the 1980s… ‘Communicaton let(s) me down, and I’m left here’.
Here’s a quick for instance. This week I was watching a re-run of MasterChef Australia in which the contestants had to create a recipe which could end up being published nationally, and thereby cooked in homes around Australia. A nice prize for someone wanting to break into the culinary industry. Sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it? Think again.
The contestants stayed up until the wee small hours, perfecting their recipes, scribbling down methodology and ratios, getting all the ingredients, quantities and processes just right. They cooked their dishes, had them professionally photographed and then came the real challenge. Could someone replicate them, based only on the written recipe. Dum, dum, dummm – is that failure I smell bubbling over on your stove?
In march the four home cooks and they get to work with just the recipes and a photo of the final dish to go by. Not long after they start, it is apparent that recipe writing isn’t as simple as you’d hope. Oops, Dani’s recipe is THREE PAGES LONG and she’s doubled the quantity of stock required and was vague about what size stockpot to use, so her poor test cook has a pot overflowing with liquid, and a soup that was really watery and flavourless. And whoops, Kate forgot to omit the juice from her boozy oranges (I love Kate), so her test cook was left wondering what kind of juice to use, as there was none listed in the recipe.
Even though the contestants had cooked, drafted, and re-tested, there were lapses in communication that meant that their food didn’t turn out exactly as it should. Great TV, not so great if you’re under the pump at home, cooking for guests and your recipe is a dud. And FYI, the winner of the challenge was the sole male left in the comp, young Michael. On ya Mikey!
In a non-televised way, I had my own communication mishap this week. Being on social media is awesome, but one thing that’s becoming more and more obvious to me (perhaps I’m a bit slow on the uptake) is how limiting it can be to communicate with people solely in a text format. There’s no tone of voice, no facial expressions, or gestures to help get the meaning of your words across (emoticons aside) and sometimes that means you can really come a cropper, and be utterly misunderstood. It can lead to arguments, offending people, communications being severed, blocking and a general feeling of angst.
All I could do this week, after realising that a few people I chat semi-regularly with online had gone MIA was write a message and check in, asking if I’d offended them. The stuff we talk about is deeply personal, which sometimes leads to things getting heated. We’d addressed that previously, and I thought things were cool. So, off my message went and I got their replies – one said no (phew!), one said yes (crap!).
Ouch, that sucked. But at least I got the opportunity to apologise and we messaged back and forth and I think/hope we both came to a clearer understanding of what had happened. We may never reconnect again, but I’m glad I got to say sorry and I hope they are able to forgive me and leave it at that.
The internet isn’t a place where everyone is going to like you, or agree with you. Just like the real world, there are more opinions that people to hold them. That’s okay, wanting everyone to like you isn’t realistic, and can give you a big fat ulcer.
The communication lesson I take away from this is to ASK MORE QUESTIONS before assuming that I know what someone means, or that I’ve been clear in what I’ve said, and to ASK before jumping in with a rant about whatever I think I’ve heard. It’s up to me to try, try, TRY and promote openness and dialogue and patience when topics veer into uh-oh territory. It’s hard to do but it’s the only way to make this space work for me. I hope others will get on board, but I can’t control that.
Now, I wouldn’t leave you without a visit to those crisply suited dapper gents of the 1980s – sing along and remember, if you’re not sure, just ask! It may save you a whole lot of angst.
If you’ve got a communication breakdown story to share, or better yet, a tip on communicating clearly and fixing it when you don’t, I’d love to hear it. Please share in the comments.