Failure to Communicate

“What we got here…is failure to communicate.”  Ah, the famous line from Cool Hand Luke (1968).  It showed up in one of my text books in college, as I was a Speech Communications major. Back then, it was easy to understand how people could “fail to communicate” because of misunderstanding each other’s verbal, non-verbal, or written communication.  Perhaps they were not speaking on the same level, or sending mixed signals.  Today, however, with all communication going through email, Facebook Wall Messages, Facebook Group Messages, Tweets, Text Messages, and that archaic thing called Voice Mail … the power of failing to communicate has risen exponentially. 

I get that. I think we all do. Cryptic messages which include forgiven typos, “emoticons”, four letter words slashed down to two (i.e. “your” to “ur”), massive group messages that pretend to be personal, yet we know truly aren’t (because 20 other people received that special invite to go to the U2 concert), and even the public open messages we post on Twitter or Facebook Friends’ Walls are phrased in such a way that they are almost indecipherable to the untrained eye (like my grandmother’s because she was a high school English teacher – she’d be shocked at our grammar and spelling) are now globally accepted with a shrug, or an Oh, I get it now. 

It’s the way we do business, the way we get to people, it’s how they get to us.  It’s just how it’s done.

I sat back the other day and considered some of my communication techniques and skills as of late.  Obviously I have had some personal challenges since my pamela.sorensen@gmail.com account was hacked through a phishing scam.  I lost thousands of contacts which I collected over the years.  How the heck was I going to contact them now? We had lived our relationships on the web through email.  It was even rare that we had phone calls.  Years and years of written communication back and forth had disappeared.  They were gone, lost in the world of cyber purgatory.  I thanked God that there was now Facebook.  I could at least get to SOME of these folks through that platform, not all, but many.  

Then I thought how strange it was to know that many of these folks from a professional and personal standpoint and I communicated so much via email, that we may not even have each others’ phone numbers in our phones.  Mine is on my signature (and I know people are getting it because there’s an auto response still going out from that old email-which I cannot access), which means, if they send me an email, they can actually pick up the phone and call me if they are curious as to why I am not responded back by email – which is so unlike me. Remember, I live on email. 

But alas, my phone lay silent.  Actually, I did receive two, one was from a Community Partner asking why I hadn’t responded to his numerous invites to an event over the past month and the other was from a woman asking me why I hadn’t responded to her numerous invites to an event over the past month.  It took them up to the week of each of their separate functions to finally pick up the phone and call me.  Both said: It was so unlike you to not respond!  I said: Because I didn’t get the email. I don’t have access to that account. Why didn’t you call me before?  They said: Because I know you are busy and I didn’t want to bother you. 

Wow. That was shocking. Now that’s what we call a failure to want to communicate.  When I say that, I mean want to get a direct answer back immediately from me.  That brought me to think about the phenomenon of the lost art of using our fingers to do something whereby the end result is a “live human voice”.  Why don’t we CALL anyone anymore? Oh sure, we are all part of scheduled conference calls, or making time in our day for our loved ones, or even to ask our assistants to call our appointments (sometimes) to confirm dates and times (by the way, I am looking for an Assistant, if anyone knows a good candidate).  

But the phone? Who wants to actually talk on the phone – because of the fear of what?  Contracting some disease through the airwaves? Hearing that the tone in the receiving person’s voice that they are too busy or really don’t want to talk to you? Having to have a conversation live time that contains conflict? Knowing this person doesn’t understand the art of the quick call and will have you on the line for hours, so you’ll have to fake the “Oh, wait! I’m getting another call and have to take it/I am going under a bridge, losing you!/Whoops, I am in an elevator, I may lose you, sorry” and so on.  You know you never call them back. Then again, they don’t expect you too and they are probably thankful you don’t because they are too busy to accept your call anyway, right?  

Ah, the dreaded live answer to a call.  Perhaps that’s why we on the receiving end bless the day that Caller ID was put on earth for us to screen and ignore everyone.  But then I started thinking about Voice Mail. The weekly digest “The Week” had an interesting editorial a few weeks back on how the Editor’s college age son thought people who leave voice mails were doing a despicable thing.  No one listens to voice mail anymore! the kid told his dad.  Just text me, or I’ll see you called and I’ll call you back.  Actually, I am beginning to believe that to be true. The amount of times I have actually received a Voice Mail notification on my mobile (not my home/office, I get random solicitors and politicians running for office leaving me messages all of the time. I am so loved.) has rapidly declined over the years.  The amount of times I listen to the message has declined as well because in typical modern day fashion, I will 1) just call the person back 2) email that person to ask what I can do for them c) text them back “what’s up?” and p.s. I still hate texting. 

A friend and I were talking about that recently.  She said, “You never listen to my voice mails anymore!” I said, “Right, I see your number as a Missed Call and I call you back. Why would I listen?  Isn’t the point of your call that you want to talk in person anyway?” She answered, “Well, I think you need to hear what I am looking for from you first, so you are prepared, and also sometimes I don’t have time to talk so I actually like leaving you a voice mail which requires an action, not that you need to call me back.  Like if I give you a lead or tell you about an article you should read, you aren’t required to call me back.”

Hmmm. Makes sense.  That was her form of one-way communication.  She didn’t fail to communicate. She just didn’t want me to communicate back to her. 

I suppose modern day technology has changed the way we verbalize, write, listen, and understand each other out of necessity.  It sometimes makes me yearn for the days when we liked to actually TALK to each other.  We had to listen to one’s voice for emotion, so thereby we could best respond.  We had to look for facial expressions and also use our own to get a message across and to evoke a reaction.  Don’t get me wrong. I do live on email, I do Tweet, I do the Facebook dance and I text.  But people, I do also know how to operate a phone.  So, if you are reading this and you wonder why I haven’t responded to you via email (to that old, inaccessible email address), please do not think I am too busy or scary or don’t want to communicate with you, because I do. Heck, you never know. You may make someone else’s day too with a phone call.

Like the old AT&T commercials say, it’s ok: Reach out and touch someone.

About Pamela Sorensen:
Pamela Lynne Sorensen is the founder of Pamela’s Punch, a leading source of information for the “who, what, when, and where” of Washington, DC’s elite social, professional, and philanthropic scene, which she founded in November of 2006. In 2012 she launched Pacific Punch, based in Los Angeles. Pamela comes from an extensive background in sales and business development from a variety of industries, has been involved with charities and fundraising for a number of years and holds several Board and leadership positions. She currently resides in Arlington, Virginia and when she’s not out on the town, she’s reading or writing while sipping fine wine, or traveling the country and the world ISO adventures, beauty, fun, food, style, libations, music, and the good life. Follow her on Twitter at @pamelaspunch.