‘What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate’
Consider these common cases of communications neglect:
1. A friend is interviewing for a job she wants, the employer knows her, and they’re desperate for her experience and expertise.
She’s been through five interviews over the past two months, all encouraging. The final interview was weeks ago. Since then, deafening silence. No indication of anything wrong. Just … silence.
2. Another friend’s very social teen is constantly on her phone, texting and messaging her friends.
Her mother texts asking where is she, it’s late, when and how is she getting home. Time passes. When the answer arrives, it’s an incoherent and inchoate string of unpunctuated and incomprehensible acronyms, abbreviations, emojis and Gen Z slang and shorthand only they know and would flunk basic English. (Eye-roll if you can’t keep up.)
3. “Ghosting” — suddenly ceasing communication with nary a boo — is endemic, even pandemic, not just in dating but even in polite society.
This is not Bridgerton, to say the least. It’s like everyone, even people who should know better, lack the basic decency to express that they simply prefer to stay home cuddling alone with Netflix, pets and pizza.
4. An independent writer sends a client a draft speech for a CEO, well before deadline to leave extra time for the usual reviews, rewrites and lawyering. Days pass. The clock ticks. Not a peep from the check-ins as the event looms.
Then last minute, the response comes — the speech needs a complete rewrite because the event has changed. We also need a new draft by 5 pm today because the CEO needs to leave to pick up the kids and their private school is very strict about punctuality because the parents tend to be busy.
The failure to communicate is exceptionally confounding when communication is so easy today.
Especially when communication can make a good or bad situation better, and failing to communicate often makes things worse, as I’ve detailed on Medium in, “Why is Communication So Hard?”
— It makes no sense in a tight job market for employers to leave talent hanging. And then wonder why they can’t find talent, or the talent took a different job, while the talent wonders, “Why would I work for someone who treats people this bad even before they start?”
— It also irks when kids glued to their phones ignore a loving, caring, worried parent’s request for basic information about whereabouts, itinerary and transportation details such as how are you getting home after midnight from a party where there’s probably alcohol.
— Nor should ghosting be acceptable. Yes, it’s hard to admit you’re disinterested and hurt feelings. Been there; done wrong. You might get blowback that makes you feel bad. Boo hoo. If you’re not an unwashed numbskull, coward, sociopath, or J6 Capitol rioter (not to be redundant), you can come up with a respectful decline.
— It’s mystifying when clients are frustrated that they can’t find good, seasoned, top-shelf strategic writers and then treat those they do find, and count on, like they’re poor ink-stained wretches huddled in a squalid hovel happy to be jerked around for the bare tuppence to keep them in ramen and rotgut.
When I ask around what’s up with today’s failure to communicate, everyone says they hate it.
That includes people who notoriously fail to communicate, when they finally get back to me.
The immediate explanation/excuse is that people are rude. Like it’s ok to be rude. Rude is the new normal.
Look at the internet and social media with its constant stream of bilious sewage from anonymous deplorable basket-cases that somehow have come to command our country and culture, and we need to heed them.
Look at Trump and his supporters who love to be rude.
Look at how today’s Republican Party embraces Trump and the MAGA movement, disgracing our parents’ GOP that stood for decency and slammed the Democrats for being rude.
But to me, “rude” doesn’t quite explain our lack of communication in spite of our easy, instant, 24–7–365 communications tools in our pockets and wrists. Other explanations might help:
People are too busy
We’re doing a million things at once on our phones and all the time because we’re amazing at multitasking. In spite of science that says even women who say men are bad at multitasking are also bad at multitasking.
We’re slammed by back-to-back work meetings and balancing the families we’ve chosen to procreate, and then surprised — despite countless books and blogs about parenting — by the struggles of “having it all.”
I understand. Many parents don’t have the time to respond to everyone because they’re busy tweeting or posting Facebook comments, Instagrams or TikToks about parenting.
People are overwhelmed with communications
We have a decillion urgent emails, texts and DMs flooding our phones every second, including spam pretending to be someone we know and might be.
Nobody has the time or mental bandwidth to answer (or block) every communication, especially when we’re all frenzied with sending out emails, texts and DMs.
People are pandemic-symptomatic
The Covid has changed everything, including how we communicate. Everyone has pandemic brain fog, which is a handy excuse for not communicating or anything we prefer not to do.
Different people communicate differently
In some cultures, like White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, not communicating, especially about feelings, is the highest form of respect.
Men, according to women and comedians, prefer to communicate like warthogs, with grunting, snorting, rutting, and tusk marking for courtship, fighting and status.
Trump men prefer to express themselves with anger, resentment, cosplaying patriot militiamen and violent tantrums if things don’t go their way, such as democratic elections.
The deeper explanations for communications failures open my eyes, ears and foggy mind.
Maybe I’m the one being rude by expecting everyone to communicate better.
I look forward to not getting a response.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.