Learning & Development

Are We Forgetting How to Communicate?

Can you tell what is wrong with this sentence? “Joe went out irregardless of the late hour.”


Right, “irregardless” is not a real word.
Yet, people have invented new words since the beginning of language. In fact, Shakespeare invented 1700 new words.
How many words exist in the English language? The Oxford English Dictionary currently boasts about 171,500 words, but language constantly evolves. Each year, words like “uber” or “microbiome” are added to our lexicon, others are modified, and others cease to be. Popular usage is the way we add new words, including new medical terms, slang, academic research, and technical jargon.
Statistics tell us the average 20-year-old knows about 42,000 words, according to Frontiers in Psychology’s study of social media.
So, with the thousands of words we know, coupled with our addiction to cell phones—a tool of communication—why do we fail to communicate?
In 2011, the Pew Research Center reported 31% of Americans preferred texting to talking, 53% liked voice calls, and 14% indicated it depended on the situation. Not surprisingly, the survey found young adults exchange about 110 messages per day (3200 per month).
Considering the abbreviated way we “speak” in text messages, is it any wonder we lack appreciation for the art of speaking to one another face to face?
What ramifications occur over time from a breakdown in communication? Seven come to mind.

  1. Potential for misunderstandings, which may challenge peace and escalate toward violence;
  2. Misconceptions or assumptions based on too little or incomplete information;
  3. Limitations on discovery and innovation in all industries and fields of study;
  4. Inability to set goals, solve problems, share thoughts, or advance morally, relationally, spiritually, physically, intellectually, or emotionally among cultures, societies, communities, and individuals;
  5. Systemic truncation of law and civility, with ensuing chaos;
  6. Loss of passion, celebration, pleasure, love, and other positive sensibilities; and
  7. Loss of listening skills.

Communication Is Essential to Our Survival

It encompasses individuals as well as all of our natural environment.
For example, when we meet someone new, we automatically “size them up” by appearance and body language as we customarily greet them. We see their eyes and expression and hear the timbre, intensity, volume, and inflection in their voice to which we respond, and we feel their “vibe.” (Vibes don’t travel via cell phones.)
When did we get forget how to commune with nature? Think about the sound of a baby’s first cry, birdsong, ocean waves, bacon frying, laughter, and so on?
Communication is a gift, and each of us has a responsibility to steward this gift well:

  • Learn to listen verbally and nonverbally to one another.
  • Since we have two ears, we should use them twice as often as we engage our mouths.
  • Allow the speaker to finish before taking a turn.
  • Make no assumptions; rather, ask questions to clarify.
  • Practice mindfulness, empathy, compassion, and encouragement.
  • Try not to take things said personally nor overshare.
  • Be sincere with your words, and remain silent if unable to do so.

Overall, look the person in the eye and smile. Remember, a cell phone cannot convey the same message as the person standing in front of us, no matter how many words are used.