Be aware of your communication habits, but not too aware
February 21, 2017
Since graduating high school, I have become increasingly hyper-aware of how I communicate.
I guess I should not be too surprised by this development, as it is a presumable side effect of being both a communication studies and journalism major. The problem is, however, I have begun to worry too much about how I am being perceived and what the reactions are to what I say and write.
Learning about a subject so fundamental as communication can be kind of severe sometimes. I would liken the experience to having someone you love point out, in great detail, all of your annoying habits which they hate. Once your habits have been pointed out, you can no longer not be aware of them.
Then, you second guess all of your habits, wondering if what you are doing is annoying, and that if in spite all your idiosyncrasies, if you will still be liked. How I communicate has been dissected into such detail that I think about everything I do, say and write all the time. I have morphed into my own worst critic who never fails to cast doubt on the various forms of communication I put out into the world.
The whole process of wanting to voice what I feel strongly about or what I am knowledgeable about, and therefore should freely talk about, has become somewhat of an arduous task. To solve this problem, I needed answers not only for the sake of my sanity, but also because I have yet to cease needing to communicate. What I needed to understand was how I got to this place of doubt and apprehension about the messages I send out and the reactions I get back.
For starters, I notice a dizzying array of details. For example, lint on a person’s shirt, whether or not that chewed pen in their hand has a matching cap to it or the amount of times someone crosses and uncrosses their legs. I could go on, but I think you see my point. I take in a lot of stimuli, all the time.
I am also especially sensitive to body language, in part because of who I am as a person and because I have been made more aware of it over the past few years. Every time I talk to someone and have to force my hands to stop punctuating my points, or to stop myself from tucking a nonexistent stray piece of hair behind my ear in a spasm of nervous energy, I want roll my eyes at myself.
Why, I want to ask myself, are you so nervous? Why are you focusing so much on what your hands are doing or if your posture is perfect? You, I want to yell at myself, should be focusing on what you are saying! My inner dialogue needs some work in learning how to give an encouraging pep talk.
I think one of my main problems is worrying about coming across as aggressive, bossy or intense. Basically, all attributes of communicating that men often do not have to worry about. As a woman, I am sensitive to body language because I need to be. When I walk somewhere, I have to notice the body language of people around me usually for my own safety.
When I communicate I notice body language so that I can determine if I am coming across as harsh, or if the person I am talking to really does not want to stay and chat. When I speak, I am so careful to not over salt the conversation with a superfluous amount of “likes” or “ums.” I dislike how much I worry about being labeled as bossy, emotional or dumb.
While I can only speak to my personal experiences, I do think that I am not the only woman struggling with the method in which she communicates. Campaigns such as Ban Bossy, for example, which is a collaboration between Sheryl Sandberg and the Girl Scouts of America, have increased the awareness of how using the word “bossy” is sometimes a criticism directed towards assertive females and is used to silence them.
Like this campaign, I do not want a label or a potential negative reaction to stifle what I have to say, ever. I hope to reach a point that when I am about to speak, or my hands are held at the ready on a keyboard, what comes out of me is exactly what I want to say. I want to communicate a message without pausing for second thoughts or for mental edits to make what I have to say sound more appeasing and gentle. I hope to simply say exactly what I mean, and mean exactly what I say, the end.
Lauren Simenson is a student at UW-River Falls.