Seeking a higher order of communication.

Author:Tumlin, Geoffrey
Position:Words & Images - Essay

THE BICKERING and stonewalling in Congress have been going on for a long time. For Americans and much of the world, Congress' inability to communicate productively seems ridiculous. In fact, according to an Associated Press poll, approval for the nation's leaders reached as low as five percent during the government shutdown a few years back. You may have said, or ranted, or posted, or at least thought: if I acted that way, I would be fired for sure; I just cannot believe we pay these people to represent us.

Guess what?--we do act that way. From time to time, we all have committed the same sins for which Congress has been lambasted. The stakes may be higher when a senator refuses to hear out his colleague from the other side of the aisle, but the senator's behavior is just like talking over someone we disagree with during a work meeting, and when a House representative makes a negative remark about the president in a press conference, well, that is pretty similar to the time we posted a rant or a snarky comment about our ex on Facebook.

Just as members of Congress seem incapable of bringing in their higher-order communication skills until they absolutely have to, we, too, avoid using them in our daily lives. After all, it is much easier to criticize, to pick apart ideas, and to talk about what will not work, but these quick and easy reactions will not solve difficult problems. In fact, as I am sure you have witnessed firsthand at some point, whether in a workplace conflict or an argument with your spouse, impulsive reactions usually make things worse.

Some of this bad behavior can be chalked up to plain old human nature, of course, but a big part of it has to do with the times we live in--specifically, the digital revolution of the last 20 years, which has brought us innovations like the Internet, smartphones, and social media. This greatly has encouraged quick and expedient lower-order communication over more thoughtful and deliberate higher-order communication. We send a short text instead of collecting our thoughts and calling. We email instead of walking down the hall for a face-to-face conversation. We post hasty and disjointed comments on social media instead of composing a more reasoned response.

Magnifying the problem, the digital revolution also has brought hypercommunication. Our inboxes are overflowing; our phones chirp with texts; and online conversations move at a breakneck speed. We cope with the deluge of messages by...

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