Communication – my thoughts about a skill that seems to go out of style

“You cannot not communicate” (Paul Watzlawick)

Well, yes, that’s totally true, but lately I can’t help but think that many people communicate very poorly. Open communication seems to be a skill that’s more and more forgotten.

Why do I feel this way?

  • The friends I can just call without scheduling a date beforehand are very rare
  • Speaking of calling: I know a lot of people who freak out at the very thought of talking to someone on the telephone in the first place, “appointment” or not
  • More and more people really think that “no answer is still an answer”
  • I sometimes get replies to emails, wondering if my counterpart even read my original mail
  • It baffles me when people just “react” to a message (like it’s possible on Instagram or WhatsApp) and then think that they’ve actually replied

When I was younger, it was perfectly normal to talk on the phone. All. The. Time. Yes, I had seen my friends at school, but we would still do hour-long conf-calls in the afternoons. When I was sad and needed someone to talk to or when I was excited and needed to share my joy, I could just grab the phone, call a friend, and discuss whatever it was that was on my mind. Of course, it also worked the other way round. Instead of panicking when my phone rang, I was happy that someone wanted to talk to me. Why did that go out of style? When did we get so used to writing everything that all of a sudden anxiety kicks in when the phone rings? I get it, we’re all very busy, so it can’t hurt to get a heads-up, asking if you’re free to talk. But guess what? If you’re not, you can just silence your phone and not answer.

But there are some people who have given up talking on the phone completely. I used to be friends with a girl since we were kids, it was my longest friendship, and it lasted even though we never lived in the same city (apart from the first four years of our lives), led totally different lives and had completely different interests. As we never lived in the same place and couldn’t spontaneously meet up, communication was crucial – and it worked, for a long time. Then, she gave up talking on the phone completely. She never explained what it was that made her feel so uncomfortable about it. All she wanted to do was write on WhatsApp or exchange voice messages. While I love to use these methods of communication as well, it just doesn’t work for me if we never see or actually talk to each other. Texting or sending monologues back and forth just doesn’t substitute real interaction for me. This becomes obvious when there’s a conflict. It’s just always better to hash such things out in person or, in our case, on the phone. She wasn’t open to that, so the friendship didn’t last.

What about “no answer is still an answer”?

I agree only to some extent. Yes, sometimes people ghost you because they just don’t care. Other times, though, people think “I’ll reply later”, then forget it, then feel too ashamed to get in touch because it took them so long. I have friends who are awful at replying, yet are super happy when I reach out. Or take myself as an example: When I have phases where I’m dealing with anxiety or panic attacks, replying to a message feels like an insurmountable task to me. I try to let people know “hey, I need to step back a little until I feel better again”, but sometimes even that isn’t possible for me, or I can’t even articulate what it is that I’m feeling that makes me unable to communicate. It would be horrible for me if my friends went “well, no answer is still an answer – she obviously doesn’t care anymore, so we won’t even try”.  

So, in my book, no answer is not a sufficient answer.

Silence can mean so much more than we think. Yes, it can mean “I don’t want anything to do with you, so leave me the eff alone”, but it can also mean: I’m scared that you’ll reject me, now that I haven’t been in touch for so long; I don’t know what to say, so right now it’s easier to say nothing at all; I feel overwhelmed with the mundane task of texting, but would be happy if you didn’t give up on me because of that. While I’m asking people to understand all these nuances of not responding, it should also be crystal clear that ghosting should not be an option. Like, at all. Given that there are so many reasons for people to stay silent, no answer is not even close to being a satisfactory answer. If you can – communicate! Even when you fear that the other person might not like what you have to say.

Concerning the last two points on my list above… I think those are the result of communication increasingly taking place in writing. It’s become so easy to just avoid questions you can’t or don’t want to answer or just post an emoji and call it a day. When you’re used to communicating like that, in turn, it’s clear why you feel uncomfortable talking on the phone or even in person.

Why is communication so important to me?

To me, it’s the base of every type of relationship, whether it’s a relationship with a partner, a colleague, a friend, a family member. If you don’t communicate, how will the other person know what’s going on? The problem is: When they don’t get an answer, they start assuming what the problem might be. Maybe they will think that you simply don’t want to talk to them anymore and stop trying. Maybe they will go through every possible scenario in their head, but they won’t come to a conclusion, because they simply can’t know unless you tell them. Misunderstandings are poison for every relationship, and the only way to solve them is by talking to each other.

How is your relationship with communication? Do you like long talks on the phone, or do you panic when it rings? Have you ever ghosted someone or been ghosted by someone? Why did you do that, or how did you deal with that? Share in the comments or shoot me a message – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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