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Communication….What’s in a Relationship, Really?

by Evan Scott, M.Ed, C.A.A. Director of Athletics, ISM Monagas, Venezuela

Throughout my many years of educating students within the public, independent and international schools, I have always been keen on communication. Communication is the lifeline of any discussion between humans as well as cultures for as far back as anyone can remember or dare to.

Communication is as diverse as cultures and race. For example, a joke may be funny in one country, community, or race but not in others. Moreover, the same can be said for non-verbal cues. A hand or facial gesture can mean one thing in one country, community, or race but not in others. An example of this would be the nose crinkle (since I am in Venezuela, I might as well use it) meaning What do you mean? or What are you talking about? or I am not understanding you. The same nose crinkle could mean in other parts of the world What’s that smell?

Ever notice the difference between inner city kids talking amongst themselves and suburban kids talking amongst themselves? The rate of speed as to which inner city students speak in groups is partly based on competition; the need to get their words or point across before the other person doe Noticing these differences are based upon my experiences as a kid from the inner city as well as teaching within inner city public and independent schools.

Communication also lends itself to how one uses or has a command of, let’s say for the sake of writing this article, the English language. There has always been the unwritten rule of judging one’s intelligence level based on one’s command of English. Hence the phrase one hears from time to time “Does one have a command of the English language?” This can come in the form of verbal or written communication. In most cases, it’s both verbal and written in the field of education. As a teacher, I know this to be true because I have seen it used as a measure by which one is judged to be a role model for students, as well as how a person is seen as someone who molds young, impressionable minds.

Currently, there is the phrase “over communication.” We must ask ourselves, “what is ‘over communication’”? Hmm. Let’s see. Is it talking too much or too long? Is it sending too many emails? Is it providing too much information on one PowerPoint slide? Better questions to ask, might include: Is it too much communication for whom? How does one rate too much communication? Is communication the art of conveying one’s thoughts, verbal or otherwise, in a manner, level or amount that allows them to do so, which may or may not be effective to them or to their audience? Are these considerations all relative? Does one tell a student of special needs that they are over-communicating or not communicating enough? Or is over-communication the measure by which one holds or judges a person’s ability or inability to absorb and comprehend the amount of information or communication?

Insert Communication Anecdote Number One: During my junior year in undergraduate school while majoring in Education, I was told that I would need to take voice and diction classes if I was to remain in the major. My adviser reasoned that I should do so because I had been labeled as a student who used colloquialisms, Ebonics, and my speech pattern was not clear, to the point of students being able to comprehend what messages I was trying to convey during a lesson. In the end, I begrudgingly took the classes to fulfill the requirement and continue my path towards becoming an educator.

Communication Anecdote Number Two: After graduating and receiving my degree and teaching certification, an instructor told me that on an assignment I submitted it was “not acceptable for graduate level work.” My reaction was, well, let’s just say it was not nice. In short, I believe the phrase was “What? Are you *&%$ kidding me? I graduated from your university and now you are telling me in so many words…..I have not mastered a command of the “English language? Really?” After a discussion with the department chair, the instructor, who will remain nameless, recanted his statement. To this day, I still have those who try to judge based on my command of English.

So, what about relationships? Is it to understand the role of communication or is it not? Do not misunderstand, I am all for relationships and relationship building and they are of the utmost of importance in the field of education. This is true when is interacting with students, peers, colleagues, parents, staff, and others within our community.

One may ask, is building a relationship as important as having one or visa versa? I believe that building and having relationships that are meaningful and not just for the sake of having one….let’s be real for a moment. Would one have or build a friendship just for the sake of saying, “Hey, I have a friend look at me” (Facebook…. lol) or have a meaningful friendship, one that is built on trust and integrity? As the saying goes, “You can’t pick your family but you can pick your friends.” So why not pick, build, or have (whatever, you wish to call it) relationships as you would build friendships?

While one builds relationships, it is important that one knows how to read social cues. Social cues are just one piece of the puzzle – one small part of building relationships. They can range from body language, ie. eye contact, facial expressions, stance, arm movements, hand gestures, etc. (There is a great sense in the movie the “Negotiator” with Samuel L. Jackson that illustrates reading body language….although it is not an exact science, it does have its merits).

Moreover, it is just as important to understand the awareness of the social cues that a person is displaying while building relationships; as we all know those within our school communities who have no social filter and have difficulty in the area of relationships and relationship building.

I guess, if I was to lean to be a master of relationship building, I would have loved to have been an assistant to Ben Franklin as he was noted as being a master of building relationships in his home country as well as internationally.

One may think about Denzel Washington’s character McCall in The Equalizer as he analyzed Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea: “Old man’s gotta be the old man. Fish has got to be the fish. Gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what.” In short, be you and stay true to yourself!

Let me leave you with this old Polish proverb that a colleague shared with me. “Every time you feel yourself being pulled into other people’s drama, repeat these words: Not my circus; not my monkeys.”

This proverb keeps me grounded while building and having relationships. At one time or another, we all realize that having or building a relationship should not need to include drama. If I had a choice, I would much prefer to establish meaningful relationships than having a relationship that is just for the sake of having one.

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