29 July 2010

Communication Skills...

The past several months have been quite an education... in communication. I've taken on so many new roles, met  tons of new people, had to navigate awkward dates, had to find ways to demand things without demanding - it's been quite a maze.

One thing you learn the second that you get an office job, is that talking to your coworkers is never just talking to your coworkers. You have to build camaraderie without being 100% yourself. I've had this told to me over and over again by my mentor here. "Watch how you talk to people, always be more professional they then are, and don't send informal emails. This is even more important since you're so young. It doesn't matter if they're informal with you, you can't do that back to them." It's frustrating, really. One of our partners got trashed at our company retreat, and all people could talk about was how they were surprised I didn't. Apparently people expected me to fall into the trap that past young associates have, lured by the casual and party-hard nature of the partners of the company. With double standards and a false sense of security lurking around, work taught me to do something I've never really done before: censor myself.

Now, awkward dates taught me something completely different. They taught me how to create a conversation out of thin air. You never know how many things you can talk about until you spent two hours at a table with a guy who answers you in four-word sentences and offers no questions in return. Art, politics, hobbies, math, family, favorite websites, books, music, awkward moments, cheese - anything to get you through till the end of the meal and the moment when you get to say: "I'll call you." Given enough strain, you can learn how to turn paper clips into stimulating conversation. At least, stimulating enough to cover up the awkward silence that would otherwise be looming over the table.

I mentioned the dates to one of my coworkers, and she gave me a suggestion that turned into a bit of a disaster. "Why don't you use awkward dates as a means to practice your moderating skills?" she said. It seemed like a perfectly good idea to me, until I actually put it into practice. On one particularly painful date for me, I busted out my best moderator moves. I mimicked body language, picked up on what the person was trying to say and repeated it back to him, asked probing questions to get further into what he was saying. It turned the date into something much more interesting, for both of us... but then it happened. See, good moderating technique is to make the person you're with feel like you are really and truly interested in them. Doing that on a date with a guy you're not interested in, well, that's just going to lead to one thing - being ATTACKED by a surprise good night kiss. You stand there at your door as he asks if he can come up, just thinking: "Who did? What did? What the HELL is going on here?!" Then you never text them again...

Meeting good friends is totally different. When you meet someone, and it clicks in a totally platonic way, talking to them is just as easy as sitting in silence. There's no effort necessary, because each one of you is adding to what's going on, and you can pick up a conversation just by saying: "So this one time..." You're like a comedian on stage who's so good that they don't have to write forced transitions. Bing, bang, boom - it's three hours later than when you started, and you're still not coming up for air.

There's one form of communication that still eludes me, however. That is the we-like-each-other-but-it's-not-platonic kind. Sure, when you're together, it's like you're old pals. You say stupid things, talk about everything under the sun, and enjoy every minute of it. The problem arises when you're not together. If it were just my friends, I'd send messages and call without a second thought. If they're busy, they'll let me know. If they don't call or message back, I know I'll hear from them the next time they think of me. All of that goes out the window when you're talking about a guy you're seeing, though. Now, I don't count text messages like some girls, but I can tell you that I sure as heck can notice a shortage. I also notice if the only messages I'm getting are responses. And... well, that's something that I'm currently dealing with.

Bring in the discussion of, "He's just not that into you," right? Well... no, actually. Ask me, or the kids that have seen it, and I've got a guy who really likes me. When we're together, there's no doubt about it. Unfortunately, though, I'm a consultant and he's a ridiculously busy student, so our time together ends up being about one evening a week. That means that at least 86% of my time consists of me trying to remember the 14% where I was positive we have something good going on. So, I spend a lot of time talking to myself.

"Don't text today. You texted yesterday, and he's busy. No use in being a menace," is one of the most common thought I have in my head when I'm not buried in spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. I've coached myself to be incredibly low-maintenance. As Bradley pointed out to me the other day when I said I'm low maintenance, "No, you're not low maintenance. You're being low maintenance. That's completely different." I've mastered self control, reminded myself that I've got a heck of a lot of stuff going on, and overall become more relaxed about it.

But then, I think to myself, "Hey, why in the world am I the only one modifying their behavior?" If I'm going to be courteous and stop myself from contacting someone as much as I'd like to, why don't I get little courtesy back? A little, "Hello" everyone once in a while? Sure, the worry might be that I would take that message and run with it, so then perhaps a, "I'm super busy, but wanted to say hi," would be an option. That would do just fine by me!

Anyway, my extremely mild "rant" is not the point, necessarily. The point is that I have yet to learn how to communicate this desire for more contact effectively. I've gotten hints and tricks and tips, but knowing what combination of things allows me to get my point across without being discounted as being needy is a fine line that I haven't yet been ready to risk walking. I want more, I'd be asking for extremely little, and yet as a girl I know that any demand I may make will most likely be construed as a sort of desperate act. It's ridiculous, but true.

And so this is where my communication training keeps going. I'm going to learn the art of loaded conversations, at least for a while. We'll just see if I can be patient enough to learn.



Anonymous said...

Why not just ask him? You can even turn it into a more global issue, like if he doesn't like to text (some guys don't). But to be in a mature relationship is to simply have a conversation about it without making demands--simply make a case for yourself. If he's not willing to meet your needs, he's probably not right for you (even if he is great you a lot in person).

Katerade said...

The honest answer is that I'm being a total scaredy pants. I'll grow some cojones, I promise!