Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Most Difficult Thing We Do

(previously published at

I’m not Dr. Phil. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, nor do I know what’s best for everyone. But I do know that communicating with others seems to be one of the most difficult things I do. I know this because I flub it up on a regular routine basis.

I admit it’s my fault more than 50% of the time. I get caught up in what I want to say, so I miss what is being said to me. I’m human. I’m guilty of just listening to just the words, but missing the body language and emotions/feelings. Or I hear what I want to hear and I miss the history and context. All of these things negatively impact communication.

So I work hard to see things that I used to miss. But I’m no mind reader. Sometimes it takes a billboard to get my attention. Oops. However, even as inept as I am at communicating, I’ve found that some things seem to work often, so I spice my day with them liberally. And others are usually communication killers, so I avoid them like I avoid Proctology exams.

Rule #1, as said by Patrick Swayze in “Road House” when teaching his bouncers on how to be effective: “Be nice.” Actually it was his rule #3: “One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary. And three, BE NICE.” You can learn allot from guy-films.

My ma once told me that if I don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Eh,,,she was sorta right. I’ve learned to not be afraid to say the not-so-nice thing, but I’ll agonize about HOW to say it “nice”ly; about how to say it in a way that it’ll be received well. Then, IF I can’t find a way to say it “nicely”, then I probably won’t say it. I mean, if it’s just gonna be cast aside; what’s the point?

Sincere compliments and sincere appreciation can often capture many folks’ attention. And that attention can enhance communication. It’s often very easy to appreciate the opposition. They are often passionate, tenacious, and creative. Why not take a second and sincerely appreciate those qualities? It just might help get your point across. And, isn’t that the point?

Before I get accused of plagiarism, I’ve learned allot about communication from a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. I’ve read the thing so many times, that I’ve lost count (probably about 8 or 9 times though, because I’m sure I’d remember a round number like 10). It’s a great book, especially for recovering Neanderthals like me. I highly recommend it.

Wrapping up things that work well: Smile. Literally, figuratively, and actually smile. Find a way to express that smile in words and you will do well. Have your smile received as sincere, and you’ll do even better.

Here are some key communication killers to always avoid: Straight up confrontation. Nothing puts people on the defensive more than being outright offensive. If you aim to win, or abuse, or hurt others, then please strap on your PF Flyers and jog a mile or two (or ten) until you get it out of your system. I often come back and rethink page-long rants that I knew were pure genius. But, upon my return I detect too many offensive tidbits, so I end up deleting the whole diatribe because it will not result in convincing anyone of anything. When true communication is the goal, then offensiveness really has no place.

Another communication killer is always being right and not being open to other possibilities. No one is always right. I know I’m very guilty of this one. I have a couple college degrees and a big vocabulary and I pummel (big word for smack) people with my righteous superiority way too often. Superior piety will often turn off communication quicker than an F-bomb. But being open to other viewpoints is not permission to be a know-it-all. Like I said, I struggle with this one. I find myself often being a nice open minded jerk. Oops.

I’m in no way an expert, in fact quite the opposite; instead I chose to write this, because I care. Yes, the hard@$$, retired Navy, Conservative leaning Moderate cares about people. Heck, I’ll say it, I even LOVE allotta people. Maybe it’s my own fumbles lately, maybe it’s that it hurts to see so many people talking right past each other most everyday; but whatever it is, I care enough that I just had to say something about it.

That’s another tip. Don’t keep it bottled up. Let it out in constructive ways. I’m certain that if we can all try to apply even one of these tips once a day or once a week (heck for some of you even once in a lifetime), then perhaps we’ll be understood many times more. And with more understanding, maybe,,,just maybe anything is possible.

But,,,I could be wrong. I often am.- Rich Preston


  1. "I’m in no way an expert, in fact quite the opposite; instead I chose to write this, because I care. Yes, the hard@$$, retired Navy, Conservative leaning Moderate cares about people. Heck, I’ll say it, I even LOVE allotta people."

    The world needs more people who care, Rich.

  2. "I could be wrong. I often am."

    Man, ya gotta learn that bloggers are always right.

    Hang in there, you'll get it. ;^)

  3. Too bad I didn't read this before I started blogging. heh

  4. Maybe caring is not enough. Hitler, Saddam, and the Taliban probably "cared". Seems to me that 'caring' can often be a ruse.

    And, just because I care doesn't mean I'm active. I probably need to get off of my tushie and do more than stab a keeyboard with my two fingers.

  5. It's not simple caring, it's what you care about.
    BTW, I don't believe you are a two finger typist.

  6. "...I don't believe you are a two finger typist."

    Am too, infinity plus one :P no takesies backsies :P

    Yeah, I've never had a typing class. I'm ashamed to admit that I was a neanderthal and I picked the guys that took typing and their glasses, pocket protectors, tennis rackets and polo shirts.

    This long haired hippie, AC/DC tshirt wearing, Colorado hiking boots sportin Freak would not have fit in typing class. But those guys got their payback,,,,they are now all my bosses.

  7. hippy turned conservative? Listened to a lot of Ted Nugent, did ya?

  8. Yes in HS it was Ted, Led Zep, AC/DC, Rush, Van Halen,,,,but then all of a sudden in College I was into Grand Master Flash & the Furious five, Beastie Boys, and Run DMC....weirds...