Synopsis: Communication is All About You — as with most things, how well you communicate is about how you choose to do things!
So, for the longest time (18 years and counting) Darbella and I have been working on learning Spanish.
We did a week long home stay back in 2005 and again a decade later, have attended classes, and work through Duolingo lessons daily.
We’ve done classes in Ontario, and have studied at a language school in Nicaragua.
I mention this because we really do understand a lot of Spanish, do well with our lessons, and can do things like shop, order in restaurants… and I’ve even done tech support in Spanish.
The only place where things fall apart is when people actually speak Spanish to us.
Well, kidding but only a bit.
Example: The grounds-keeper at our condo in Costa Rica speaks to one of the maids. I’ll get about two words.
What happens for me is this:
- If I know what the topic is, I can relax and just let the words flow over me, and I’ll “get” 90% of it. And I can answer in short sentences.
- The trouble starts if I overhear a conversation, but don’t know the topic.
- Or, if someone changes the topic.
In other words, so long as I am in charge and steering things, I’m kind of fluent. As soon as another person has the audacity to do something unexpected, I might as well wave a white flag.
And this is how it goes with all communication.
When I teach the Communication Model Darbella and I use, I get blank stares, and sometimes, “You’ve got to be kidding me! I can’t talk like that all the time. People will think I’m nuts!”
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But you have to practice, all the time!
If you don’t use the Model all the time, in all circumstances, you’re going to get tripped up. When?
When the other person veers off, changes the subject, or does something unexpected. Just like me, and Spanish.
But here’s the real point: it’s not the fault of the other person!
In Costa Rica, many expats “complain” about the locals using “rapid fire Spanish.” Words get slurred together, and it really is hard when native speakers get going with each other.
But that’s not the fault of the Costa Ricans. That’s due to “my” inability to keep up.
Now, sure, I can utter “lentamente” and hope the other person will slow down, but really, the issue is me. I’m not hearing well. If I want less distress, I need to hear better, and not to freak out.
I need to let go of expecting others to make is easy for me.
Just like all communication.
Imagine a world where everyone demands that the other person speak and act “as expected.”
Now, usually, people do have this expectation, but it only goes one way. It would be like me expecting that all of Costa Rica ought to speak the way I want.
Most people have this idea when they talk with spouses, family, friends, whomever.
And then, they get pissed off when the other person makes the same suggestion to them.
The best communicators are the people who speak always and only for themselves, while adapting to the thrusts and parries of the person they are talking with.
Sure, it’s nice, say, to be in a class, speaking Spanish with other gringos, while a bilingual teacher listens to and comments on each word, but this is emphatically not what happens in real life.
In real life, communication can be messy, get bogged down, can even be avoided for years. Until it’s too late. But that only happens if you just stand there and blame “the Costa Ricans.”
I can’t get Darbella to speak better Spanish, and she can’t get me to speak better Spanish. I can work on mine, and encourage her to work on hers, and that’s it from my side.
Same with day-to-day communication. I can show up, and to the best of my ability do it “right,” and that’s it. Dar’s going to show up and do what she does.
Now, of course, we wouldn’t have stuck with each other for almost 40 years had we not, at the same time and in our own way, both committed to endless practice with the Communication Model.
We do as well as we do because, in the end, our goal is “fluency” in Wayne-and-Dar-speak. Period.
So, no demands on others to “do it right.” Just a demand on myself to do it well, and to do it well-er tomorrow.
Because, like everything else, the game is about learning to be present in the world, despite what the world is doing.