The art of miscommunication

I don’t believe that we give ourselves enough credit for just how good we are at miscommunication.

Even though we have all been told at least once, most certainly twice, but most likely constantly and repetitively over the years, to say what you mean and to mean what you say, we are very, very good at doing the opposite.

We seem to revel in not saying what we mean and never meaning what we say. Then, after the miscommunication has occurred, we delight in kvetching about how no one ever understands us!

In Alain de Botton’s not-seminal, but still meaningful, work, The News: A User’s Manual, he says:

We…are members of a noble but hideously flawed species; capable of performing amazing feats, ably practising medicine or parenting with love for many years, and then of turning around and blowing up our existence with a single rash move. We should be scared.

He is so very right.

We are at the apex of scientific and intellectual glory, living in a time when human knowledge is vast and somehow still growing, and yet we should be so afraid of how, in the process, we have taken communication – a thing we supposedly cherish and want more of – and turned it into miscommunication. Miscommunication is effectively non-communication when it becomes extreme and neurotic, and we have made that form of it sacred in our culture.

Why would I say that? Have you been on the Internet recently?

All kidding aside, if you spend as much time as I do on the ‘nets, stay up to date on popular memes, Instagram quote accounts, Twitter, et al., you will come to the same conclusion that I have:

We hate honesty. We hate vulnerability. We hate being direct. Instead, we like irony, we like the clever quip, and we like the soundbite.

We like being frustrated, we must, otherwise, why would we do it to ourselves so damn much?

Also, we like payback. Because if you can’t get what you want, why not throw some shade and leave a little burn behind? That’ll teach them, right? (Of course, obviously, duh, this is the adult way to communicate… well, no, no it isn’t, but this adulting things is hard.)

It is not easy to be this terrible, if you must know. It takes real effort to obscure our true feelings and needs. One could say:

“I don’t like it when you don’t respond to my message for days.”

Instead, someone often says:

“… Thanks for getting back to me. Lol”

Wait, what?! That is the exact opposite of what we meant and what we felt. Why would we do this? Why?

Because miscommunication is a way of not putting yourself at risk of rejection. It is a way to hide behind the cloak of “being cool” and “being chill” and not being “sensitive” and of all things, of all the shameful things one could be accused of in our “Netflix and chill” society today, it is being sensitive, ugh, how dare you be so weak?

Ah, yes, that is the truth, is it not? We would rather project strength and invulnerability instead of be our true selves. We care more about what other people think about us than how we feel about ourselves.

If you haven’t figured this out already, that sucks. It doesn’t feel nice. When we actively miscommunicate things, we actually hurt two people: ourselves and the person on the receiving end, who a) never gets to know who you really are and how you feel, and b) if they are sincere, never gets to show you who they really are and how they really feel about you, your friendship, your relationship, and your ideas.

You never know the truth in all of your relationships. You are always walking on eggshells. You are always unsure. And that is a miserable way to live.

Miscommunication, when you strip away the niceties and get down to the heart of what it is, well, it’s lying. We have sanctified the art of the lie in our culture. We worship that which hurts more than it helps. We have made it the height of cool to just lie, lie, and lie.

Are you afraid yet?


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