Here is a quote – If people did not sometimes do silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done.
Communication, as we see it today, is not the way it used to be. It has evolved with time. So if we wish to achieve better communication, we should feel free to make changes in the ways we communicate. If we don’t do so, we are likely to fall prey to misunderstandings and awkwardness, which ultimately give rise to stereotypes.
The stereotypical boss is haughty and arrogant while the stereotypical employee is passive and frustrated. The stereotypical husband feels unsatisfied and irritated while the stereotypical wife feels lonely and unimportant. All these stereotypes exist for a reason. We pass into them only when we give too much importance to ourselves and don’t think about what the other person feels. They are the results of something that we know as a ‘communication gap’.
Getting past the stereotypes
We are so preoccupied with our own point of view that most of the time or we are searching for reasons to convert others to it. We feel that we are right as a rule and anything that contradicts us is wrong.
This situation might be detrimental on both the personal and the professional level. Lack of productivity, not getting what you want from a relationship, stress, and anxiety – these are a few of the many poisonous outcomes of such an attitude.
Nevertheless, you should remember that this is just an attitude, and by changing it, you can improve your personal situation and that of others around you as well. You just have to let go of your ego, think about what the other person wants from you, and to consciously take simple but definite steps to bridge the communication gap. If you are patient, developing all these qualities will not be very difficult.
The importance of ‘hubris’ in ancient Greek tragedies
Characters in modern mainstream dramas can be classified roughly into two types – heroes and villains. However, ancient Greek tragedies are different in this respect. The two main types of characters in those are humans and gods. The gods in those dramas are depicted as perfect, supremely powerful, immortal, and full of pride. Humans, on the other hand, are shown as fragile, mortal, and powerless.
According to Greek mythology, the greatest sin that a human being can commit is ‘hubris’. Hubris in Greek means having excessive pride or considering oneself at par with the gods. The typical Greek tragedy generally shows how – as a result of the grace of the gods – the main character of the story develops hubris after achieving success, and how, following a chain of events, the gods ultimately punish him by robbing him of everything he has, consequently leaving him with no pride at all.
The ancient Greeks performed these tragedies in huge open-air theatres and gave them immense importance. They believed that by watching the main character suffer the unjust actions of the gods, the viewers would experience a catharsis, which would ultimately transform them into people more capable of accepting their own faults as well as that of others. They showed that being human isn’t about having no faults at all; it is about having faults and accepting them.
Be likeable, not proud
Speaking too highly of yourself might, at best, earn you admiration and respect, but by doing so, you are isolating yourself. You are constantly telling others how different you are from them and pushing them further away from you. Rather than bridging the communication gap, it widens it even further.
One of the easiest ways of overcoming this is by showing others the imperfect and human side of your character. You can easily do so by telling them humorous anecdotes about your childhood, your previous work experiences or about your personal life; anecdotes that humorously show that you can be stupid, too.
People usually do not trust others because they see others as different from themselves. They subconsciously identify themselves with both the positive and negative traits of their character. However, when someone else shows or tries to show an overly positive image of himself or herself to them, people generally tend to dissociate. They start thinking of the other person as someone different, someone they don’t actually know and can never completely trust.
Therefore, to gain someone’s trust, you first have to make them realize that you are just like them. You can do this very tactfully by telling them about some of your own faults. It would be best if you do that in a very casual and humorous fashion, as that would negate any judgment.
Once they know you intimately, they will cooperate better with you, and tell you more about what they think, not what they want you to think. This will give you a realistic picture of the situation and save you from any future surprises. It will also give you the privilege of being more direct in your dealings.
Don’t spread negativity
There’s a big difference between telling others about your faults every once in a while and telling them about your troubles every time you meet them. So you should watch what you say. If you think that people are increasingly trying to avoid you, ask yourself this simple question – ‘Do I complain too much?’
Nobody likes a person who grumbles all the time. The hidden, subconscious reason behind grumbling is jealousy. People who grumble all the time are actually jealous of others. By grumbling about their pain, they subconsciously try to make others experience what they are experiencing. They repeatedly talk about the same problems and are always trying to make their experience more explicit and more real for others.
This is a bad tendency. Nobody likes to be around people who spread negativity in such a way. If you want to talk about your troubles, do so in a calm and natural tone, and not in a piteous one. Moreover, make sure that you talk about them only occasionally, not all the time. Remember, it is a psychologically proven fact that if you are talking negatively about someone, then the people you are talking to are more likely to perceive you as the negative person, not the person you are talking about.
Everybody likes a good listener
Being a good listener isn’t about giving your time to someone, it is about giving your attention. If someone is talking to you, your attention is all they want. However, paying attention isn’t enough if you fail to make them realize that you are doing so. Listening goes beyond the mere nodding of the head, reserving judgment and putting in occasional affirmative remarks; it is an art.
According to the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein4, in our everyday life, we use language like a game. Like all other games, every ‘language game’ has its own rules. To understand the real meaning of what others want to say to us, we must understand which ‘language game’ they are playing. For that, you need to read between the lines. For example, if someone makes a negative comment about you, it doesn’t mean they bear you any ill will or that they don’t like you. It means that they believe something else to be ideal, and you don’t match that ideal. Finding out what that ideal is and making visible changes in your personality according to that ideal would certainly help in improving the image that person has of you.
But beware, don’t be very eager to please or eager to change. A few small signs are good enough to show that you have seriously considered whatever the other person thinks about you. So don’t make your intentions too conspicuous. Overdoing this would make you look desperate, and you might end up losing respect because of that.
How to say ‘no’
The last and most important part of communication is the ability to say ‘no’. Remember, there’s also a downside of being too frank with others around you. There are people who might try to exploit your kindness by asking you for too many favors. It is good to help others every once in a while, but if it begins to affect your work or your personal life, it is time to take some strict measures. You should start saying ‘no’.
Actually, the thought of saying ‘no’ seems more difficult than the act itself. When you say ‘no’ to someone, they will probably think about it for some time, feel a bit disappointed, but soon move on to someone else for help. This won’t affect your relationship with them. However, if you feel too guilty about it, maybe you should cite a genuine reason, like lack of time, lack of ability, or – if the person themselves can do the task – simply say that you just don’t like doing it.
If you want to sugarcoat your denial further, you can choose from many other alternative approaches. You can begin with an affirmative sentence, saying something like, ‘Oh that’s great. I would definitely have done that, but the thing is, I have some urgent assignments to do today, and I don’t think I will be able to take out time.’ Or you can say, ‘I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep.’ After that, you can try suggesting alternatives, or you can say something like, ‘Although I can do that, if you look for an alternative.’ These in no way dispel the image of you being a kind and helpful person, and – if your suggestion works out – might even add to it.