Why am I bad at communicating and how do I get better at it?
July 5, 2019 5:12 AM   Subscribe

I am not great at communicating with people and I'd like to get better at it. I don't communicate enough and I put off responding to messages and emails. This is true across friends, family, and colleagues. Can you recommend some resources, particularly focused on communication that you think would help?

I am inconsistent when responding to messages and sometimes struggle to know and express my thoughts. This is unhelpful to others if they need my input quickly.

I'd like to read something that talks about why people fail to communicate and what styles of communication work well. I am thinking of something that gets into why I fail to communicate. Perhaps I don't know what to say or I don't want to let somebody down and so I put off replying until later, and later, and later, until it's too late.

I know that procrastination is a more general problem for me (and the usual answers to that question). I am specifically looking for resources that are focused on this as it relates to communicating with people. If there are concrete strategies that would help, all the better.

I know that this can put a burden on the people near to me and I'd like to be better at this.
posted by mnfn to Human Relations (7 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I found that communication issues of this sort (which have always plagued me to some degree) were both tied up with and a particularly unfortunate example of my tendency to needlessly procrastinate. I found this article (SLNYT) helpful in understanding where procrastination comes from - problems with emotional regulation, rather than sloth, or, as it felt to me, an inexplicable but insurmountable barrier to doing tasks that I both knew were both necessary and straightforward (and often enjoyable! I still couldn’t send the message, though).

I don’t know what will work for you, but for the moment I’m dealing with it quite effectively (little to no daily backlog on emails and messages, able to make important personal and professional telephone calls within what for me is a tight timeframe, say 30 min) with the following relatively minor life changes:

Regular light exercise (I aim for an hour daily but don’t force myself);
Minimal alcohol during the week;
And I keep a hand-written journal / to-do list. I use the bullet journal technique but I imagine that any would work.

The three habits have become self-reinforcing to some degree. I started with the exercise and the improvements in my mood drove the other two changes quite naturally. The communication problem - which had reached a personal nadir last year, when I couldn’t keep track of friends and family while living in quite an isolated situation - has markedly improved as a result. I’m replying to things and taking the initiative in making contact with people I haven’t spoken to in a while.

I hope my experience might have some pointers for you. Good luck.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 6:45 AM on July 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

I am inconsistent when responding to messages and sometimes struggle to know and express my thoughts. This is unhelpful to others if they need my input quickly.

People do things they like to do, and do not do things they do not like to do.

If you're not responding to people and would prefer to, I think it's worth interrogating yourself as to what is blocking you - what you're feeling, how you're feeling it - and why - and then resolving or addressing that.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:02 AM on July 5, 2019

This isn't really a strategy per se, but for me, this is a way in which my anxiety manifests itself. So, I work on managing the anxiety. Self-care, journaling, a walk to clear my head (sometimes this backfires and causes the thought spin cycle to get really out of control, ymmv). Then, after the anxiety levels are down a little bit, I'll make a checklist of what I need to do, and focus on knocking just one of those off the list. That normally creates momentum, so I keep working my way down. Breaking up the tasks into subtasks can help with that - if the item is easy just to get done and check off, the momentum builds faster than if the first thing on there is huge and meaty and overwhelming in scope.
posted by Fig at 8:07 AM on July 5, 2019

I've found it helpful to have a specific time in my day I deem the correspondence hour, where I sit down and just blast my way through all my messages. Alternately, find idle time where you can message while doing other things (the classic example is texting on the toilet, but while in line at the supermarket or during the boring parts of TV shows or while on the bus all work).
posted by storytam at 9:41 AM on July 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I also struggle with this and, much like chappell, ambrose, it has a lot to do with procrastination and (for me) a lot of weird, shapeless, anxiety. I've found that the book The Now Habit is easily the single best resource to put clear words to what I experience and find potent ideas for how to get "unstuck."
posted by mosst at 11:21 AM on July 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

If I'm struggling to draft an email or something, then I sometimes start in word or notepad or something so it's a different thing, and start in the middle or whatever. If I'm really struggling I mind map it out. This is more for, I cannot find the words to get across what I want to say. On a similar theme, some people say that drawing a diagram helps, or trying to say it out loud.

Also, you can change the medium. So if I can't bring myself to return a phone call, maybe I can write an email. Or if I'm struggling to explain something in writing maybe I'll try calling. Or IM because it seems more informal.

Sometimes this is about perfectionism. That's not my problem so I don't have any real suggestions but you might look up other tactics to defeat it.
posted by plonkee at 11:41 AM on July 5, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks all for the answers so far.

While the general procrastination answers are helpful, I was hoping to find that someone had written something specifically about procrastination as it relates to communication. I'm not sure if this is because I should reframe this in my mind, or if there just hasn't been much written about this.
posted by mnfn at 7:06 AM on July 9, 2019

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