Let’s have a conversation about communication and interpersonal skills…

Specifically I wish to talk about the lack of emphasis on teaching communication and interpersonal skills. This is the first of perhaps several posts in this vein.

First of all, what I want to preface this post with, is to affirm that people do learn this stuff. We do think about this stuff – some of us, quite a lot. However, I believe that while some of this is covered in early childhood learning, by the time we get to high school it’s negligible or non-existent.

We go through teenager-hood and then are sent out into the world as brand spanking new adults, where expectations are high but teaching, mentoring and the ability to safely practise are low.

On most job advertisements, there is a requirement for the applicant to demonstrate good communication and interpersonal skills. In our daily lives we personally talk to and communicate with many people. ¬†We develop friendships and romantic relationships, we often have families that we relate to as well. Yet we don’t generally get more intensive teaching beyond our growing up basics about how to do all of this.

If we’re lucky we figure a bunch of things out early on and run with them. We learn how to make friends, sometimes we learn how to deal with friendship conflicts, sometimes we learn how to be in a romantic or sexual relationship, sometimes we learn how to deal with conflict here too. However, it’s all by doing, in the deep end when and where the consequences of your actions really make a different and unintentional (or even intentional) harm is very possible. It’s so unnecessary.

There are also those of us for whom figuring out communication doesn’t happen like that. Those of us who fall into this space continually find ourselves frustrated and flummoxed as to why things with other people don’t work out. We may have an inkling that it’s something we’re doing or not doing, but we may be utterly confused about what it might be. For those of us in this situation how are we meant to learn how to communicate better?

I get frustrated seeing people struggle over what I know to be issues of communication and interpersonal skills. I get frustrated knowing that the skills needed are well within reach to anyone who cares to learn – and has the opportunity to be taught in a safe and caring manner. So often this isn’t the case and it saddens me.

What tops this off for me, is that when workplace morale, culture and communication go out the window, we pay (either personally or companies) a large amount to then do a bunch of learning about communication and interpersonal stuff that we could quite easily have learned as a part of our general schooling.

Why do we have to get to a dire point of noticing that we’re missing some key skills and support before we are able to do anything about it? In some cases, we’d rather put on a strong front and deal with it through determination alone. There has to be a better way. I want to see these and related skills (like ethics) taught throughout schooling and before we enter the workforce, take on a trade, go onto further study, go travelling, or become a stay at home partner and/or parent (or any other life choices that we might wish to make that I’ve forgotten to mention).

There is no substitute for the communication skills I’ve (painstakingly) learned – mostly through that gauntlet of getting it so very wrong before I could begin to get it right. I’ve hurt people I cared about, I’ve alienated people, I’ve made situations worse where I couldn’t figure out what on earth I was doing wrong. I’ve worked incredibly hard over the years to turn that around. I’ve become very good at these skills and relationships in general by virtue of the fact that having spent far too long getting it wrong, I was deeply invested in having it go right.

The confidence I have now gained in my communication ability including with interpersonal skills is hard won and I’m proud of it, but more than that… I want to give it away so that other people don’t have to go through that same gauntlet of painful (sometimes traumatic) experiences before it all starts to come together. It’s not necessary to learn by trauma, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone – and I have to say again – there has to be a better way.

Everything we do in the world, at some level almost certainly involves another person and it baffles me that we spend so little time teaching communication and interpersonal skills. If they underpin so very much of what our everyday lives are about, how is it that we value the teaching of these skills so little? Is it like that unwinnable equation of motherhood being the ‘most important’ job you’ll ever do while simultaneously being the lowest paid (by which I mean, we pay for the privilege).

I don’t pretend to know, but along with ethics, critical thinking and other community minded learning, I advocate to see communication and interpersonal skills being taught formally as a vital life skill – as important as being able to read or write.

 

On taking on a yearly theme…

One of the ways in which I organise my focus and learning over the course of a year* is to choose an overall theme for the next twelve month period. 

When I say theme, what is it that I’m talking about?  I mean, a concept that you use as an overarching focus to what’s going on around you, something that ticks away in the back of your mind as you move through the world. A theme is something that motivates and inspires you, something that you’re in some way hyper aware of whenever there is hard stuff, big stuff and good stuff going on in your life. It’s a way to pay attention to something going on that needs that concentrated energy for an extended period. 

Past themes I’ve had include ‘Exploration’, ‘Expression’ and last year was ‘Connectionism’**, and I’ll tell you more about this year in a follow up post. Mostly in this post I wanted to set up the idea so that if you wanted to, you could try it for yourself. 

A theme is in some ways aspirational, but more tangible in that it’s a space you’re creating to step into, awareness you’re cultivating and knowledge/experiences that you’re valuing. 

Sometimes you might choose something that you’d like to work on, something that you’ve been stuck on or something recurring that you’re not all that happy with. You might also choose something positive that you actively want to bring into your life. You can choose anything, but in thinking your way through this, you’ll likely stumble on a concept that feels ‘right’ and clicks with you and where you’re at. 

When I take on a theme for the year, I have a strong sense of what I’m bringing to it in the beginning – even if that appears to be little or nothing. For me it’s important to be aware of what some of the ideas and thoughts, desires and assumptions I’m bringing to the theme, because invariably the best of what I’ll learn and grow into, won’t be any of what I already thought I knew. Knowing what I bring to the beginning of a journey like this (and it is a journey – a treasure hunt in a lot of ways), allows me to see more clearly what I really got out of it, expected and unexpected. 

As part of setting up the treasure hunt, I also find that listing actions, habits, wishes, goals or projects I want to include as part of the journey is useful and inspiring. This list motivates me to go searching and delving into the theme I’ve taken on, allowing me to really connect with it, immerse myself in it and commit to it fully. These things also give you a way of reflecting on the progress of the journey as you go through the year. 

Once the year is done, reflecting on what went on over the course of the year, how it related to the theme, what I learned or saw, felt, appreciated, valued, struggled with, is deeply rewarding. It’s also a great way of letting go of the journey completed in order to embark on a new one! Thus are traditions created. 

What kind of journeys and treasure hunts are you embarking on? What do you think these will entail? What do you look forward to on the journey? What are you fearful or nervous about? What actions/habits/wishes/goals/projects are you taking on as part of your theme?

Happy themeing! Stay tuned for my post on 2010 with ‘Connectionism’ and what my 2011 theme is all about! 

 

* When I say ‘year’ I mean that this is generally a useful timeframe with which to go about this theme business. However, if you feel like you’re done with a theme inside a year, great!  See what occurs to you as the next theme you might want to take on, perhaps it will take longer, shorter or be much the same – go with what feels right for you. 

** I’ll talk more about connectionism in a follow up post but the way I look at it, it takes the idea and concept of connection to a bigger overarching level that I find more interesting and engaging to play with.