Between computers, email, social media networks and cell phones with far more power and capabilities than the earliest computers, ours should be the best-equipped generation ever for communication. Yet this explosion of technology uniquely sets us up to miscommunicate. We write things that are misunderstood, with absence of tone and comments we might reconsider if we were face-to-face with each other. We think we have been heard when we speak to each other on our cell phones, only to find out our call was dropped. We think we have kept our co-workers in the loop regarding our business plans and our friends aware of our personal feelings, until we realize what we’ve actually done is criss-crossed our communication intentions, thereby informing our co-workers of our personal feelings or our friends of our business plans. This last scenario can be most embarrassing and hurtful. I am grateful to say it has not yet happened to me, but I shudder at the thought in the same way I think of fingernails on chalkboard—absolutely awful. As in, it seemed like such a good analogy at first, but now I keep hearing that sound over and over in my head. (Visualize me shuddering here, breathing deeply, moving on …)
Of course, it is just this type of criss-crossed communication situation we found on the latest episode of ABC’s Mr. Sunshine. In an episode titled “The Assistant,” Alice (Andrea Anders) sent her former boyfriend/co-worker Ben (Matthew Perry) an extremely personal e-mail meant for her current boyfriend, Alonzo (James Lesure), who works in the office, and sent Alonzo an email regarding an innocuous business matter meant for Ben. She had no idea of the turmoil she stirred up. Understandably, both email recipients were very confused by the contents of the messages they received. Alice asked each of them if they received her email, but thinking that each received the message she intended them to receive, gave little thought to their odd facial expressions and responses. Not receiving any clarification from Alice, Alonzo and Ben (especially Ben) enlisted other people to help explain Alice’s communications. The results include two absolutely flummoxed co-workers and one mortified Alice. It’s only funny because it’s fictional. OK, under the right circumstances, if nobody got hurt, it could be hilarious in reality, too, but most of the time it isn’t worth the risk that we may be wrong in our definition of "the right circumstances."
Consideration of two issues can help spare us the drama Mr. Sunshine suffered. First, we should always consider the content and consequences of our communication—before putting it out into the universe. This alone could help prevent untold miscommunications from ever happening. Second, in the event of a miscommunication, we should go directly to the person who can resolve the miscommunication rather than involving other parties and thus multiplying the confusion. I suppose some might discount the importance of keeping the other parties out of our interpersonal confusion, but when we continue to keep uninvolved parties uninvolved in our interpersonal conflicts, we minimize the opportunities for gossip, misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the situation from which the worst of the pain caused by miscommunication most often springs.
The challenge is this: take care with your communication. It’s true that we now have the most technologically advanced communication tools in our hands, but those powerful tools also give us new power to impact each other’s lives. Use the power for good.
Rachel Decker writes a biweekly column about television for RELEVANT magazine. Check out her blog at http://racheldeckerspeaks.com/.