The pain and importance of communication

During the past several months, I’ve had to work with people much more than before, and I learned a few things, one of which is the importance of communication.

Ligia and Raoul, talking

It’s one thing to sit in front of the computer all day and communicate via email and the occasional meeting, as it happens in IT work, and it’s quite another to only do it in person, face to face, explain concepts and ideas, try to get your vision across, then see how well others understood and delivered on the stuff you needed. More often than not, I’ve been disappointed, but I’m told that’s par for this course.

So where does communication help?

Where there’s tension, it helps deflate anger and potential conflict. I’ve been in situations where the tension had built up so much the hair stood up on my back and I was ready to punch someone, and yet if we were able to communicate rationally for a few minutes and hash out the various problems that we faced, all of that pent-up anger literally melted away. Of course, if the other person can’t communicate rationally, that’s another story altogether…

I can’t overemphasize the importance of communicating with each other as you work on a project with other people, particularly when it’s new territory for either one of you. Most people aren’t good communicators. They’d rather just do their work, but if they’re not taking the time to understand what it is you want them to do, being faced with an end result that differs from your expectations can lead to bad situations all around. So what I’ve had to do is to initiate communication most of the time, and to get these people to explain to me each stage of the work they were doing, several times a day, just to make sure they’re on the right track.

In the past, when I worked on IT projects, I had to do the same thing sometimes, but more often than not, I got too frustrated with the capabilities of others and brushed them aside, preferring to do the work myself, knowing I could do it faster and better. That wasn’t possible this time. I’ve been involved in construction/renovation work, and even though I could do the work myself, I couldn’t allow myself to do it because I needed to get results on a tight schedule. Doing things myself would have meant pushing deadlines into the future, and that wasn’t an option. The teams I worked with could deliver the stuff on time, but I had to make sure we were communicating properly. It was a real challenge, and I gained a new-found respect for general contractors and project managers. It’s very stressful and exhausting to work on construction projects and ensure everything gets done according to plan and to your vision when you’re dealing with people. Unfortunately, until we invent robots that can do all manner of construction work to spec — and I doubt that’ll ever happen — that’s what we have to work with.

In IT work, if something isn’t right, you can go back in and change things. You erase or modify the code, re-adjust the software options, etc. You’ve only wasted time, not materials. (Yes, you can also waste resources and others’ time, but let’s not bring that into the equation for this analogy.) In construction work, you not only waste time, you waste materials, and that can really add up. There’s also the painful cost of tearing down stuff that wasn’t built right and starting from scratch, and you pay for this in more stress.

So yeah, communication is vital, but there are some serious flip sides to it.

I’ve found out that you can still be misunderstood and judged even when you do your best to communicate as much as possible — and here I’m not talking about construction work, but life in general. Your every action can be perceived as the opposite of what you meant it to be. You’ll try to help someone else and they’ll think you’re trying to hurt them. You’ll do a good deed and it’ll get mocked or your kindness will be abused when others seek to take advantage of you. It is so painful to deal with this crap, and yet there’s no way around it unless you go live someplace away from everybody — and let me tell you I’m sorely tempted to do it.

There is so much potential in each of us to create, to do good things, lasting things, beautiful things, to achieve lofty goals working in harmony, but we’re stuck using language to communicate what’s inside us. There’s no better way to transfer information and ideas between us. Unfortunately, words can be sorely lacking in the power to transfer information and vision, in most situations where it’s really important for them to convey that. And yes, this is coming from a writer, someone who loves using words. It’d be so much easier if we could communicate what’s in our hearts, unequivocally, when we needed to do it, so there would be no doubt in the mind of the other person of what our true intentions really are. Of course my vision is somewhat utopic. After all, many people simply don’t aspire to do good things. Their goals stop at the ordinary or downright sordid aspects of life, and you can’t do much good with those people. You’re better off avoiding them, unless you welcome extra stress in your life.

I suppose one antidote for all this pain caused by living and working among people is to not care. By this I don’t mean we should be callous. I mean we shouldn’t care what others think of our actions or of us. We should stand rooted in our morality and do what we know is right, treat others the way we want to be treated, and let others think what they will of us. As long as we’re true to our own moral compasses, nothing else should matter. Right? But somehow it does, doesn’t it? And it’s so damned painful, too.