There are a lot of online guides to effective communication. Most recycle content which your elementary school guidance consoler could have told you. So right off the bat I am going to say this: the following guide is not for everybody; this communication guide is for the unusual, the different, the Queer.
When I say ‘queer’ I mean individuals who are shy, introverted, intellectually gifted but prosaically stunted, and people who just don’t like spending time with others who don’t ‘tickle their fancy’. Accordingly, however, I am not merely playing word games as I do intend for my audience to be Queer people (Homosexual, Bisexual, Transgender, etc.); non-Queer people will still find it relevant but with the understanding that the content matter addresses people of a non-heteronormative nature.
I decided to write this guide because the last year for me has been, in many ways, a crash-course in effective communication; this is to say that in not applying effective communication techniques, or simply refusing to apply them, I have garnered a hefty amount of psychological bruises. The good news is though that I have learned from my failures and feel the need to preach the good news (of effective communication) from my own observations.
This being said the guide is highly volatile. Some people may find it useless, others indispensable. How effective the advice is will depend on you as a person. As such, do not hesitate to leave a comment explicating how the advice worked for you or what you would change or suggest yourself. This blog is an interactive platform for the exploited and oppressed, so don’t fret about feeling ‘out of it’, because you are very well ‘in it’!
Anyways, on to the guide!
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#1: Email (or letter writing, or poetry, or short stories) is key!
I have a hard time expressing myself in person. Often times I would not be able to express half of what I would be able to express were it not for email or some other form of impersonal communication. When I came out to my best friend, for instance, I wrote him a letter; if I needed to repair a relationship with someone and express why I made a mistake that I did or ask them why they made the mistake they made, I am able to be far more emotive than were I in person.
A strong suit of such forms of impersonal communication is time. When you are sending an email or writing a letter no one can interrupt you; people can’t cut you off mid-sentence while you bravely attempt and explain why it was you cried like a baby when you get drunk or become violent when someone makes an ill-referenced joke. You have all the time you need plus the courage of being able to write what you want and worry about the consequences later—whether it is coming out to a friend or making a heartfelt apology, you have the ability to pour your heart and soul into your form of writing and carefully craft your communique.
#2: Make it lively!
Are you often called ‘funny’ or a ‘funny guy/girl’? Don’t think it is too informal to add in some jokes where appropriate. Even with more formal contacts, such as professors, you would be surprised how well a well-intoned joke or remark will travel. Obviously you shouldn’t abuse this talent by adding in too many humorous bits, but more often than not, adding in something personal about yourself (humor, references—puns, and a display of your knowledge—concerning your trade, or just a flowing sense of kindness and respect, who you are in real life) will get you far. With contacts of a non-professional nature, friends and family, add in the personality bits fast and thick since there is a lot to gain from doing so and little to lose.
#3: Don’t be a drama-queen!
There is a difference between conveying emotion and being needlessly dramatic; the former and latter are often divided by necessity. Do you really need to link to a melodramatic alternative-rock ballad to illustrate how you feel? If the answer is ‘no’ then do not link the song in your email or reference in conversation. While there is plenty of situations, even emotional ones, where linking to depressing or sad music is appropriate, it will—more often than not—only off-put people, perhaps pushing them away from you, if you overburden your communique with over-the-top statements, dramatic evaluations of your failures or sorrow, and volcano-like eruptions of anger where you swear like a sailor.
If something has happened recently which has made you very upset, not overburdening your message can be difficult. I know the sensation all too well of dealing with an unfortunate event by sending a hastily written message to someone—it counteracts the isolation and allows (hopefully) another person to feel some of what you are experiencing. But this almost never helps things. It makes you look like a child, immature, as though you do not know how to deal with your problems in a grown-up way.
In my time, I have dealt with overriding anger and bouts of intense depression. Previously, I have handled the anger by sending furious, boiling mad messages ‘chewing out’ the object of my frustrations; likewise, with my dips into the trenches of depression, I had made threats which I never intended to carry out. Each of my actions had a consequence. Each of your actions will have a consequence—remember that ripping into someone could result in an irreversible relationship/friendship tear or that a melodramatic email chronicling your hopelessness could result in hospitalization.
Before sending an emotive message, you have to ask yourself the following: what do you hope to gain from sending such a message? What is your objective?
If your objective is to assert that a friend has not actually been your friend, that they are a fake friend, then instead of slathering your email or letter with a plethora of curses and poetic turns-of-phrases which could make Queer Liberationist manifesto shriek with indignant glee, tone it down: remove every instance of accusation, moderate your language to the point of it seeming absurd to send such a message (because it doesn’t convey your present emotional state), and be sure to de-link any emotional music, videos, or thinly veiled threats. Express yourself in an overly polite, formal manner. The expression “you’ll catch more flies with honey” has poignant new meaning here.
Consider the long-term impact of your message as compared to what it is you really want to achieve. Do you truly want to end a friendship or merely make it known you feel like a pity-party with legs, someone who is not appreciated as much as your appreciation is for them? Do you really want to kill yourself, or is it that you want to express your loneliness and frustration with the object of your desire? Essentially it boils down to this: don’t say things you do not mean; it is counter-productive. Communicate your feelings while taking the other person’s feelings into consideration and the end-result will be far more productive. It will ensure you maintain a calm and collected composure (something naturally reflected by your age and presumed maturity) while actuality having a chance at getting to the heart of the matter and repairing the ills which have so plagued you.
To truly illustrate this view I have provided an example below: the first message is one of a person expressing their fury over another person’s perceived hypocrisy in the realm of friendship, while the message following is the revised draft of how one should conduct one’s self via written communiques. Carefully compare the two and take note of the dysfunctions of the first and the strengths of the second.
“I apologize for being so straightforward but what is your problem? You said that you wanted to spend more time with me, but all that I have seen is the opposite—you prance around with other people while brushing me off like I am a pity party with legs; if you don’t want to spend time with me outside of school/work, then you don’t have to pretend like we are friends when clearly you are scorning me. It makes me feel like shit and I don’t fucking appreciate the pretense. Just say you don’t want to associate with me rather than dragging me along like a goddamn loser. So just cut the shit!”
That email is dysfunctional: it is loaded with melodramatic language (“loser, prance, pity party”), has several swear words over the course of a very concentrated block of text, and is singed with accusatory statements, that this other person is purposely leading along his friend when the reality maybe simply a delusion on the part who sent the email. This email assumes instead of asks. It demands instead of requests. Additionally, the tone is hostile when it should be welcoming. A proper email shouldn’t display any of these negative traits. Below is an example of a proper email.
Proper, constructive email:
“Dear friend. Lately, I have had some concerns about our friendship. While I merely may be mistaken, it appears from my vantage point that the goodwill between us may be based in something other than concrete; meaning, I fear that you are forcing yourself to spend what little time we have had together due to a desire to see me placated. I don’t say this to be hostile but rather simply because lately I have not been very emotionally stable concerning my perception of our relation, and so feel as though my concerns ought to be expressed. I would highly value your input on this matter; whether it is to dispel of fears or confirm them, I would duly appreciative of a thoughtful response from you. Thank you for your time.”
This second email is far better. It is more constructive and proactive. It lacks the hostile, incendiary tone of the previous. There is no cursing, as you will notice. The syntax is one of mutual respect: the user sending it has modestly expressed his thoughts and view on where he stands in relation to a friendship while politely inquiring on whether such notions are true. They have given the other party a chance to explain how they see the friendship instead of blatantly lambasting. Nothing is assumed. A position is expressed, but it is not already codified in a presupposition of reality; a viewpoint has been expressed with the express intent on having another give some input.
Such an atmosphere should be a given in any interpersonal communications, especially if you are feeling as though you’ve been slighted, cheated, mislead, or screwed over. One must remember that emails are forever. The transcript, the date, and code, of each and every email you send will be able to be accessed by anyone with a savory enough understanding of electronics. Just because you have “permanently deleted” something doesn’t mean it is gone. The other party still retains a copy in addition to the traces of it which remain on both of your accounts.
You should maintain a high level of decorum in any emotionally or mentally straining situations precisely because of the rebounding consequences. The eternal nature of emails allows the content to be dug up at any time in the future, for a variety of reasons. I do not have to warn you, as a Queer, that whether it is blackmail, threats, or shaming or outing, there are a large number of reasons why consistently maintaining a respectful, non-hostile prose is beneficial to your image both in your private and public life.
#4: Be concise—don’t beat around the bush!
Often times it is tempting to preface the poignant with the banal; to discuss random details, events, and thoughts before launching into the ‘real deal’ composing the meat of the intended conversation. While it is tempting to do so because of your mind’s tendency to think that easing into the emotionally/mentally/intellectually/existentially heavy content is better than jumping right into it, for fear out of off-putting the person(s) you are communicating with, it is almost always better to get right to the point. Why? Because after the other has read your email they are not going to remember the banal. They are going to remember the poignant. They are going to respond to the poignant and ignore the banal. Additionally, if upon first glance the receiver gleams a block of text laden with seemingly trivial details, they are likely to take a longer time to respond to it due to its apparent non-vital status; if you are in need of an immediate response then obviously it is a counterproductive move to beat around the bush instead of getting right to the heart of the matter.
#5: Show Respect
If you are communicating with someone of authority or in a higher position than you—a boss, manager, professor or professional—really anyone who holds power or an advanced degree over you, then you should show them a decorum of respect—even if they deserve nothing but your wildest contempt. When opening up an avenue of conversation with someone for the first time you should never begin by using emoji’s, slang, text shorthand, or anything which falls outside of the respectable canon.
This is because you are not talking with one of your friends. The individual whom you’re talking with, especially if they hold an advanced degree, comes from a very different place intellectually and so they are going to expect a certain level of sophistication; this often translates into using proper grammar, having your words be spelled correctly, and not deviating from the Oxford English dictionary when it comes to definitions (this is a bit more important then you will realize). Deviation from this line allows for the possibility of you not being taken seriously or, worse yet, the other not being able to understand you in the first place.
While there is a bit of room for person with whom you share some common ground, such as if you come from a similar alternative culture or political strand, you should remember that for the most part for your conversations, you will be expected to adhere to a code of conduct. Wandering away from this code of conduct could result in dire results.
Additional: The “S” Word
(Legal Disclaimer: This section does not encourage any person(s) to commit suicide; the purpose of this section is to philosophize and consider the implications of suicide as an act in relation to communication. Persons considering suicide are encouraged to seek professional help)
Suicide is something which happens. It is part of human behavior. Without offering my opinion on suicide I can say this: as someone who has struggled—at times—with such thoughts, as well as the thoughts of others, I can say this: don’t drag others into your struggle; by this I mean that if you are preparing to commit suicide, and imminently intend to act upon your decision within minutes or hours, don’t contact people.
By this statement, I do not mean don’t leave a suicide note or don’t call a crisis line, or reach out for help to a qualified personnel. If you want help then reach out and start the process. When I say don’t contact people I mean don’t leave Facebook posts and/or messages, texts, tweets, recordings, and don’t offhandedly mention (in person) your plans to strangers or contacts. Just act upon your decision.
Why do I say this? Because attempts fail, you suddenly change your mind, you sober up. Additionally: someone you leave the message with, or someone who sees it, could call the police; while the moment may pass the repercussions may not. A failed attempt could leave your whole family knowing your personal business, thus negating your privacy. Likewise, an attempt called off—or forgotten—after you have sent messages could result in hospitalization and the altered opinions of friends, classmates, and co-workers.
It is a human need for emotional and existential connections. When we are down in the dumps and on the edge this is especially true. Besides, sometimes there is this part of ourselves who wants to be talked out of our decision, or who wants to earn some pity, or just have a friendly voice by their side near the end. And yet I have found, foregoing those persons who use suicide threats to control people, that the risks of such communication, and the emotional and moral turmoil thrust on the person you contact, rarely have a tangible pay-off. I’m not going to say that it is selfish to contact people, or that it is wrong to do so, but it does have its own socially ambiguous baggage which has the potential to be highly counter-productive.
Even so, if you do intend on contacting people, I have provided a brief list of dos and don’ts, as well as a sort of code of conduct which I hope you will find useful.
DO leave a suicide note; DON’T leave unsolicited messages/threats on social networking sites or with people.
DO (if applicable) leave a Will or intent concerning what to do with your belongings/wealth/assets.
DO inform people of your decision IF they have expressed prior interest in knowing if you plan on killing yourself (and if they have said previously they will not interfere with ways you have deemed inappropriate).
DO express your gratitude and love to your friends and family; DON’T belittle or deride, saying that it is [so and so’s] fault for your decision.
DO find a method and place of suicide which will enable the least amount of suffering for yourself as well as efficient clean-up after the fact. Tailor your attempt to your method: find a suitable place (for instance, any attempt utilizing firearms is perhaps best suited to the outdoors); DON’T spite people in an attempt by purposefully making the clean-up more arduous than it already is likely to be for them (for example, using firearms in an attempt indoors, in a frequently used room of the house or one that holds special meaning to someone).