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The Silent Treatment--And Other Ways Not to Handle Your Problems Well

Updated on July 10, 2010

It's a fascinating fact that these days we have more ways of communicating then ever before, and yet we have not made any social advancements in handling problems of communication. For all of our technology, important social relationships--friendships, marriages, employer relations, and family relations are not improving as a whole. In the health care system, we've learned that the number one cause for preventable death in the hospital is poor, or under-communicating. Poor communication replaced medication errors as the leading cause of preventable death in the hospital, and THAT number is already something close to 200,000 per year in the US alone. Think about this. Hundreds of thousands of people could literally have their lives saved with the right conversation. What are we doing wrong?

Towards the end of 2009 I joined Facebook, after avoiding all social networking for years. It wasn't a deliberate avoidance. I just didn't think I had time for it, as I had enough trouble keeping up with my friends in our actual lives. I proclaimed time and again that social-networking was just "not me." And really it wasn't. I'm still one for old-fashioned conversation. Facebook tells me I have something to the tune of 250 friends, but I don't believe him. Most of my friends are not on Facebook for one, and of that number of 250 friends on Facebook, I probably regularly see about 50 to 60 people. That's already more than I can handle. But like most who join Facebook, I became completely addicted to it. It was a wonderful way to talk, without actually communicating. There's no real listening involved, no real conflict resolution, very little musing over the deeper concepts of life. I notice most are eager to let the internet know what they're going to wear that day, that they went on a bad date, that the mall is crowded or the line they're in is too long. When 'status updates,' and I just learned to call them that, slow to a halt, those you know on Facebook assume that clearly your heart has done the same. Who wouldn't be updating their status unless they're dead?

I've heard grown adults in their thirties recently talking about how they had to "de-friend" a person off Facebook because of something that had offended them at a barbeque. One de-friendship I knew occurred over a misunderstanding of the "tone" of a status update made by a Facebook friend. Now, I'm not the most mature person in the world, but the last time I de-friended someone it was over a peanut butter sandwich, and a Punky Brewster lunch box. What has happened to our ability to resolve our problems within our own social communities?

And if you're not Facebooking, there's always text messaging. I'm the reigning queen of texting, a culprit that has dumbed down conversation to virtually the point of babbling. I send and receive texts that are so abbreviated that out loud it would sound as if we were speaking infant. And yet, I love texting for all the ways it bottom lines a thing. No conversation frills, just...OMW. (On my way).

Our technology has made poor communication funny--our ability to misunderstand each other has become entertainment. If you're not truly witty, charming or interesting in real life, you can post enough interesting links to defy that. If you're not wise to what's going on in the world, you can just refrain from commenting and your ignorance can be your own little secret. Actual conversing is almost out-dated, and it's all fun and games--until someone gets hurt.

Enter The Joint Commission. This is one of the regulatory agencies in the hospital system--in fact it's the regulartory agency. If the FBI were to morph with say, your mother-in-law, and formed an agency, they'd call themselves, "The Joint Commission." In health care we prepare all year for their annual "visit" and know that if we don't pass, heads will roll. The Joint Commission can close a hospital's doors in 30 days time. This agency promotes "gentle" goals that we are to "gently" adhere to or we will be "gently" fined. They're like gentle Nazis. When The Joint Commission declared the news that poor communication was the number one killer in the US health care system, it made an impact on me. Some of our regressing social behavior is carrying over in to things grown-ups must handle well. Our health care, the government, our families.

I don't have the luxury of "de-friending" a doctor or nurse that's getting on my nerves. (I certainly would if I could). We have to work it out. We have to remember we are on the same side, work together, and not communicate in fragments. We have to not text. If a physician wants something done a certain way, she has to say what she means, and I have to understand what she means before I go to carry it out. If I don't agree with the decision, or find it to be dangerous, I can not handle it by not speaking to her for the day. I can't handle it by screaming at the top of my lungs, or resorting to insults. Neither can she.

At a conference I went to in Vegas a while back, the speaker recommended a book, that I still haven't read completely, but I've appreciated thus far. The speaker stated that if we got the book, "Crucial Conversations," and learned nothing that helped us improve in how we interacted as professionals, or even in our families, that she would refund the book out of her own pocket if we sent her the receipt from wherever we got the book. One of the key components of the book that I've found was the resurrection of the lost art of listening well. My best mentors as nurses were very effective listeners. They demonstrated that they understood what was being said to them by both patients and doctors, and would not hesitate to seek clarity on what they didn't understand. They didn't worry about looking as if they were of less intelligence if they truly did not understand an order--a serious problem in health care as a whole. So many in health care are climbing the intelligence ladder at all times, and a question knocks them down a peg. But seasoned, and truly worthy doctors and nurses shrugged at the idea that one of their peers would judge them for gaining clarity on an issue on the floor.

I have to end this with where poor communication hits the hardest. The family--which is the basic unit of any society, is suffering tremendously from this very basic concept of not communicating effectively. The average US family just doesn't look right without something electronic stuck to every family member at nearly all times. With more ways to say hello then ever, family members barely want to. What contest do we ultimately win in society as a whole if we can't keep our families together? Can the I-Family survive?


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    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 6 years ago

      Thanks so much, LivingFood. I am always working on improving communication as well, we all can do that. Thanks for reading.

    • LivingFood profile image

      LivingFood 6 years ago

      Very engaging article! Communicating has always been very difficult for me and your article gives me another reason to work on those skills. Thanks for the great read! :)

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      Lita, thanks for your thoughts on this. I'm really tired and hope my response to you makes sense. Months ago I was was reading a book "The Shallows" which was a survey of where we are in the information age. The author made the bold assertion that the internet is re-making us in its own image. He wasn't an alarmist as I quickly lose interest in alarmist types, and he still is online daily. But he made a very interesting case for how our very pliable, very adaptable, and very programmable brains can be re-wired without much conscious awareness. Like what happens with stroke victims. He says the internet is teaching us to be a "scanning" culture. Our capacity for depth in many things is diminishing, while ostensibly, our "knowledge" is increasing. Many minds are made up of trivia and hot air, and things are not improving.

      But, technology has meant great things for me--all of us, re: medicine, entertainment, and in some ways communication. You mentioned the dissolution of the ever-important family unit with shoddy communication, and you're right. But for those of us with undefined borders like myself, you can't hate technology. I'm moving out of the US before the year ends, I couldn't be happier that we have the technology available to keep me in touch so well with the people I love. I think that technology advancing enables bigger, better vision from those prone to dream and innovate. I think the sheer viral aspect of social media might even play a part in fulfilling bible prophecy, but this is just a speculation on my part. I have some reasons.

      Everything in moderation, I guess.

      Thanks for reading, Lita!

    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 7 years ago from Philippines

      I agree! Even with the proliferation of communications gadgets, I see a shrinking generation of techie people believing they communicate the fastest when actually, they're not, particularly the youth. It has become more difficult to understand them with those fragmented responses they are proud to call the jejemon language.

      I blame the seeming collapse of close family ties to technology- it's the family, the basic foundation of society that suffers most because of these modern forms of social networking. These are not bad, they only become one when the young aren't properly directed by their parents of their purpose- to communicate in it's real sense. We can never substitute pure words of concern and love for each member of our family with those paid quotations in texting, for instance. I never appreciate them but out of courtesy, I reply with my own words.

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      Hi, KKG! I think we're in a "Jurassic Park" place in our culture when it comes to some of our technology. Meaning, just because we can...should we? Thanks for reading!

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      ahostagesituation, insightful observations. I had fun reading this. Unfortunately I have to agree with you, communication isn't what it ought to be.

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      Thanks, Sean. I hear I'm a people person...every now and then I don't want to be ;-). Interacting with people comes easily to me, and it was Dickens who said anything worth doing is worth doing right. Plus it's much easier now that I can do this from my phone! Thanks for reading!

    • seanorjohn profile image

      seanorjohn 7 years ago

      Hostage, this is amazing that you not only write so well but you respond in such detail to everyone.You will go far.

      Regards, Sean.

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      Hi, MeGunner, do you remember the name of the book? Most people listen only in assumption, they've decided what you're going to say, and your point of view without ever really hearing you. Technology is feeding a culture that's becoming more self-absorbed by the nanosecond. Status Update: Resolve issues, show actual concern for others without constant, exhaustive purging of your emotions and of your own views on absolutely everything. Learn love and put it into practice. I'd like to send it out, but I'd have to "friend" the whole world. And you and I can not afford the luxury of poor communication. Not when our lack of communication alters someone's entire life course or kills them. I like social networking now, I'm creating one. But I just don't see it as a substitute for the majesty of true conversation.

      Writing can have an edge over all other communication (if it is read), because it engages the brain more. I'm a bible reader, and it's so obvious to me why God would choose to direct using the written word. Too much is lost in the oral traditions of men--direction would be lost to the persuasion of the next speaker. one listens anyway ; ).

      Thanks for reading!

    • MeGunner profile image

      MeGunner 7 years ago from Lagos

      I once read a book that tried to highlight the dearth of 'real' communication. The writer encouraged me to say something, anything passing a message to someone and ask the person to repeat what I just told him. I tried this on so many people and the result kept me going and got me stupefied!People don't hear what you say, but what they think you are saying! And worse still, now they don't even think you are saying anything anymore. How deaf our world is becoming!How I wish I can make everyone on HB read this insightful hub, perhaps we may create our own little world; a world of people who really talk and listen... who really communicate

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJ 7 years ago

      Kristin, with comments like this, you really should be writing more hubs! I love what you have to say...especially the "Twit" thing. Glad you were laughing, I laughed a little writing it. I'm just amazed by where we are--we're more accessible then ever, and more disconnected as a society then ever. These days, the true connection is so rare, it can be very hard to believe. Brilliant that you're focusing on what you want to say, and not just the amount. That's a great writing technique. My favorite writers are not verbose, they write quality content, not quantity content.

      I just hate what I'm seeing--teens who can't spell because they speak in abbreviation, no one knows grammar rules...who needs them. People are constantly interrupting each other because in texting you don't have to wait your turn. Manners have much has changed for the worse with our advancements. That said, I love texting, and I won't be deleting my facebook account any time soon! It's funny!

    • ilmdamaily profile image

      ilmdamaily 7 years ago from A forgotten corner of a dying empire. OK, it's Australia :-)

      Fantastic observations! Caught myself laughing several times:-)

      I'm reminded of an incident a few months ago. A bike messenger in the city, I walked into an office building elevator, disrupting it mid way along its journey to the top of another human filing cabinet. The doors opened, and I was greeted by the scene of no less than 8 people in a space barely larger than 1.5 square metres, all busily obsessed with their phones. Not one word was being exchanged between them in this confined space.

      The irony of course was too much to bear, and I burst out laughing at the absurdity of 8 people in a box desperately talking to everyone - anyone! - else, except the person right beside them.

      As much as I love technology, we're losing something fundamental the more we confuse "representations" of relationships with actual, genuine human connections.

      We've confused the ability to communicate with the need to connect. Everyone's so busy talking past each other - desperately sending tendrils of their most personal selves into the nether, hoping that someone will notice them - forgetting entirely that the most important person of that moment is the one beside them - stranger or friend.

      You make a great point - the ability to transform relationships into abstractions which can be "liked" or "un-liked", "friended" or "de-friended" has dramatically altered our ability to get along with people we don't aggree with. We're regressing into a child-like society...maybe even something else actually - even children seem to be quite effective at resolving their differences most of the time.

      It's true what they say: talk is cheap because supply exceeds demand.

      I made a conscious decision in my life a while back to fight the "economics of communication" by cutting drastically back on the amount I "communicate", and focusing way more on what I want to actually say. The result is a much (much!) smaller, though infinitely closer group of relationships. Which suits me fine:-)

      I know it's fun to prattle on about anything and everything, but it can't be a coincidence that 60% of the word Twitter is Twit?


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