When I began writing this, I had an entirely different agenda in mind, but I’m trying to learn how to “go with the flow.” My anxiety doesn’t like to go with the flow, it likes structure. It likes structure for structure, a plan to make plans.

I originally wanted to write about communication and the way anxiety can affect the communication we have with others. I’ll still write about that. There’s a lot to be said about that. Just not this time…

I’m not an expert in communication.

I like to think that I am well-spoken and articulate, and I truly believe that I am those things. But I’m still not an “expert” in communication. Personally, I’m not sure anybody truly can be. Frankly, I think it’s much easier to be good at miscommunication than a master of communication.

Communication is a skill- a skill we begin learning from the beginning of our existence. We learn how to speak and how to write. We learn how to make facial expressions and gestures, and to use our tone of voice. We learn how to draw, paint, and play music. We learn how to move our bodies to that music. And if we learn how to do these things well, we may think we’re good at communicating.

The truth is, though, that all of these things together only make up one half of communication as a whole. Communication is very much about the skill of expression- the speaking, the writing, etc.- but it is also about the art of interpretation. No matter how well we think we’re expressing the things we’re expressing, if they’re not heard, interpreted, and accepted the way we intended them, the message can be easily misconstrued, rejected or lost entirely.

Even the most “perfectly” crafted expressions- a sentence, picture, song, or dance- can go unappreciated if heard or seen differently by the person hearing, reading, or seeing it. Similar to the way “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” communication is very much in the hands of the “interpreter”- the person receiving the message being expressed.

If communication were a circle, expression would be the the starting point. The art of interpretation would be the rest, Essentially, the ability to interpret the intended message being expressed completes the circle; the inability to do so keeps it broken.

For all of the obvious terms associated with communication, there are just as many others that pair with them. Communication as much about listening as it is about speaking. It’s as much about reading as it is about writing. It’s as much about hearing one’s inflection as it is about the tone of voice used. It’s as much about seeing and interpreting the illustrations and movements as it is about creating them in the first place.

The irony of this particular article is that even as I write this, I understand that the message I’m intending to send may not be the one being received by you reading this. In my mind, everything I've written to this point had made sense at the time, but I know I have a tendency to overcomplicate the things and I’ve confused people before with much fewer words. Simply, what I mean to express is that communication isn’t just about ourselves- it’s about others, and for that reason, communication is difficult.

One thing my background in education has taught me is that there is no one “right way” to teach a lesson (imagine how anxiety-producing that can be for someone who needs everything to feel “just right”); every student (read: “individual”) is different. In terms of teachers and students, a teacher can be teaching 2, 10, or 20 students, and each of those students learns somewhat differently. Some learn best by visualization, some learn best by listening, and some learn best by doing. 

The same is true in life. You can do your best to say what’s on your mind, paint what’s in your eyes, and write what’s in your heart. Still, the way these things are interpreted have as much to do with the person hearing your thoughts, seeing your artwork, or reading your words as they do with you expressing them.

Lately, I’ve found myself in a number of situations which have reminded me how challenging communication can be. The things I’ve meant to express and the way those things were interpreted have not exactly matched up and has made for some tense conversations, which is an understatement (read: “arguments”).

I think we all know some of the negative feelings we experience when we try to express ourselves and the response we get isn’t what we had hoped for. These interactions can make us feel frustrated, anxious, inadequate, angry, confused, misunderstood, or at a complete loss for words. Believe me, I’ve been there thousands of times and I’m still figuring it out.

What I have learned is that when what you’re trying to express isn’t being interpreted in the way that you meant it, it’s not necessarily your fault, nor is it the fault of the person or people you’re speaking to. It may very well be that the person isn’t in the right mindset to hear what you’re saying and take it at face value. It could also be that it’s you who may need to try expressing yourself a bit differently, either in a different tone of voice or through different words. Or, it may very well be a miscommunication on both sides.

When you’re expressing yourself, perhaps rephrase your words, change your tone of voice, make a different analogy, or frame things in a different context. When interpreting someone else’s expression, be patient. Open your mind to their point of view and consider where they might be coming from. If you still don’t understand, ask them to try expressing themselves differently, within reason.

Each of these things, though little by themselves, can make a big difference in the way we communicate with one another, feel towards each other, and treat each other. Whatever the case, just remember- communication is difficult, and that much is not your fault. But, it is a two-way street on which you do have some responsibility.

As I said in the beginning, I’m not an expert in communication, and I don’t think anyone else can be, either. I do think, though, that we can always be better at it by considering others. For me, I’m trying to be better at the way I identify and describe what I need from others, and it’s a continuous work in progress. How about you?

What aspects of communication are you best at?
In what ways do you feel you could communicate better?

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