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Being communiflexible

June 28, 2007   

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how I present myself, both in my personal life and in my professional life.

It is more important to me that I convey the correct impression of me to others than always being myself. Did that sound contradictory? Probably. But they are very different things to me.

Here is an example. If I had things 100% my way and I cared more about being me as I perceive myself than how I communicate with others, I’d probably never use a smiley face in my writing; I’d never hug people upon greeting them and saying goodbye; I’d go months or possibly years without calling up friends that I love.

Hmm. I didn’t mean to make myself and my impulses sound so antisocial.

What do I mean? “I’d probably never use a smiley face in my writing.” I only began to use smilies because I realized that it wasn’t clear to many other people when I was making a joke. However, my natural inclination is to be dry, and dryness and inclusion of smilies in writing are really natural enemies. But living life and interacting with people, it was more important to me not to deliver the line, but to connect with people and make sure they are getting my intention which is to be in on the joke together. Not making it clear to someone that you are joking simply acts, albeit unintentionally, to exclude the person you are joking with, instead of creating rapport in a shared view.

When I’m composing an email to a colleague, I make sure to use their “language”. If this is a person who is very direct and succinct in their communication, I keep my email the same way because I’m sure they don’t want to have their time wasted. If they are someone who prefaces their email with thanks and sorries, I make sure to do the same if I’m asking them to do something for me, because it says to me that those interactions matter to them. If a person’s email has exclamations and smilies, even if it’s for work, I’ll try to echo them to some degree so they understand that I am not depressed or angry about what I am communicating to them.

People may be reading other people’s words but often apply their own voice on the words they are reading. If they think the words/tone echo how they’d speak if they were pissed off or trying to be insulting, then even if there is not a single word in your writing that sounds like that, they will most likely walk away from the experience with a negative impression of the communication. If they think the words/tone felt flakey and too bubbly, they will walk away from the experience thinking that the person who wrote them can’t be taken seriously, even if all the writer wanted to do was soften up their communication.

So in order to communicate to my coworkers that I’m a responsible, unstressed, communicative, hardworking, serious-yet-casual person, I might write five different emails in a day that sound very different in tone. But hopefully, they all have a very similar picture in mind of who I am.

“I’d never hug people upon greeting them and saying goodbye.” And it’s true. I only ever feel like hugging Seppo, my mom, my nieces, and my little brother. Ok, I wanted to hug my extended family members when I met them. I guess I mean that most of the time, I wouldn’t want to. There are a few heart-felt exceptions, like a real hello or a real goodbye of someone I care about. To me, it’s something I only want to do (when it’s not Seppo) when I’m overwhelmed with emotion.

But you know what? I hug people all the time now. Why? Because I know what it means to the people I care about in my life. It’s not aloofness or lack of affection that keeps me from wanting to hug people, it’s just that I’d rather just wave hi or bye, and save the hugs for when it’s really significant. But to many others, not hugging is off-putting, and makes them feel like I perceive a gulf between us that I don’t in fact perceive. My hugging them gives them the proper impression of how I feel about them, even though I wouldn’t choose to express myself that way, if I didn’t think it’d hurt feelings. Because it’s important to me not to hurt my friends’ feelings and also to let them know I do value them and feel a great amount of affection and love for them, I hug them. Because then, they hear the love in a language they understand, even if I speak it awkwardly and would prefer to speak my own language. But if I spoke my own physical language all the time, most of my friends would not understand me.

I suppose the other dimension of this non-hugging thing is that people think of you in a certain way when you say that you are not a hugger. The assumption is made that you are cold, that you have issues with physical affection, that you must not be loving. These are all things that I think are completely untrue of me, so I feel like I need to portray myself externally to society as I see myself internally.

I think the whole “calling thing” is pretty much the same as the hugging thing.

Being communiflexible (totally a made up word) seems fairly obvious to me. It’s the concept of being able to tell your friends certain things in a certain tone, but not just general acquaintances. It’s the same concept, but extended a little further.

I feel like I should have something at the end of this post that really ties things together and crystalizes my thoughts perfectly.

But I don’t. 😀 Oh noes! Smiley!

June 28, 2007 at 2:42 pm

I should note that a large inspiration for this blog entry was a series of conversations I had with my dear friend Roopa. I always find insight when speaking with her.

The other thing I should really bring up is that by choosing to do things like hug and use smilies in conversations, I have actually grown comfortable with these things enough that one could say that they are a part of who I am now. “Fake it until you make it,” indeed.

June 30, 2007 at 4:41 pm

i’ve given up trying to communicate with people the way they need me to (which is making my professional life much more difficult these days); be who you are and if others can’t take it, do you really want to be communicating with them anyway?

June 30, 2007 at 5:37 pm

I’d, uh, I’d like a hug.

Andre Alforque
July 2, 2007 at 9:49 am

Only let people hug me when drunk, or they do it by surprise. My personal space is HUGE.

Wow, I do the same things with my work-related e-mails! Use different greetings (or none at all), be light-hearted, talk in detail or just give a summary.

Didn’t you have an earlier post where you mentioned different personalities for certain groups you hang out with? Who are you, and what have you done with the real Ei-Nyung? Or, maybe this is like that movie, Identity

July 5, 2007 at 4:47 pm

Communiflexibility: This is something I should work on more myself. I think I’m probably just OK at it right now.

In written communication I tend to err on the side of more words and emoticons and punctuation than less, in the hopes of eventually having a mass of text that mostly conveyes the ideas and mood I’m trying to convey.

In spoken conversation I definitely err on the side of more words than less for the same reason.

Physical manifestations of friendship: I used to have a huge personal space bubble too, and used to not hug or touch anyone really. When I moved to California the good friends of the guy I was dating were all very much huggers and cuddlers and touchers, and they eventually turned me to their side. Faked it until I made it, as ei-nyung said.

I feel bad for all the times I’ve hugged Andre now. 🙁

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