Talk to Me, Baby. Or Better Yet, Text Me.
Good communication is just as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh*
My mother very often tells me that I am a great communicator. It is usually right around the time I send out another round of just-because cards to a group of friends or when she is encouraging me to respond to conflict. I don’t think that she is entirely wrong; I think I am a decent writer when I have the time and passion fueling me on. Where I think she is mistaken, though, is the assumption that it comes easily to me, when in fact, the very opposite is true.
My Myers-Briggs personality type is “INTJ,” one that is very uncommon, and is exceptionally uncommon for women – female INTJs are almost like unicorns or Bigfoot in our elusiveness. We operate on logic, systems, and research, and generally hate small-talk. It is not that we dislike people or anything, but we appreciate efficiency, and if we are going to communicate, it is going to be for a reason, and with great intention. In our natural inclination for research, we tend to observe before interacting, and while we might look bored, trust that our minds are racing. We are very Spock-like. When we join in the conversation, it is not by accident. Our words are carefully chosen to express exactly what we feel/are thinking, and when we get it right – ooooooh, when we get it RIGHT!!! – it’s like happy little internal firecrackers. When we read something that is so concise, so eloquent, so beautifully poignant, it leaves us breathless. Words are seduction and power, and not to be handled lightly.
For me, the process of writing is like shelling and eating walnuts. I love walnuts, but those little buggers are a pain to get out of the shell. If I’m lucky, I can position the nutcracker just right on the shell, and with just the right pressure and speed, BAM! I have a perfectly shelled walnut, beautifully wrinkly and delightfully woodsy, and in no time, I am smiling at my accomplishment. Most of the time, as much as I hate to admit it, I don’t get the nutcracker in the right place, I apply too much pressure too quickly, and I end up with a broken walnut. Still just as delicious, but the sense of pride isn’t quite the same. Often, at this point, I haven’t even gotten the whole walnut out of the shell, and I end up having to use the metal hook to dig out the stubborn bits left behind. When I write, I occasionally say exactly what I want to say on the first try: the right words at the right time in the right mood and BAM! I have a beautifully written bit of communication that gives me a sense of pride. More often, though, I think too quickly, forget that the reader may not be reading from the same context as the context in which I am writing, and instead, I end up with a bit of communication that might get the job done, but seems to be lacking in some way. Sometimes, I have to revisit it over and over, pulling the stubborn words and thoughts out of my head, until what you have before you is close enough to what I want to communicate.
That’s why writing is so great: you can always edit before you publish.
Verbal communication is another story. Verbal communication, especially with new people, often feels like trying to play the water glasses while herding kittens at the same time: frantically trying to appear calm and directed in an attempt to produce something pleasing to the listener while internally checking and rechecking and rechecking myself to make sure that I am not going to let things get carried away and scattered. At the intersection of having an INTJ personality, a very high IQ, and a moderate case of generalized anxiety disorder is a big pile of fear surrounded by a million questions: What if I come on too strong? What if I am too honest? What if I say something totally bland that ends up being received as offensive? Are they going to think of me as a know-it-all, when I’m not trying to be? Am I going to speak too soon and sound like an idiot (a primary characteristic of INTJs is not wanting to appear lacking, and appearing uninformed is as horrifying as it gets)? Am I missing social cues that I should be getting?
When I am talking to someone I don’t know well, it feels very much like my attempts to converse in German: though I studied the language for years, and speak it (poorly) with my sister, I stumble and make dumb little mistakes that cause the listener to kindly correct me or ask if I really meant what I just said while I internally chastise myself for “knowing better” and still getting it wrong. I replay the conversations in my head over and over, realizing all the times that I should have said something differently (hello, anxiety). This is why I love texting so much: it lets me think before I spit out a response, to taste my words before hitting “send.” It isn’t perfect, but it is a lot less pressure.
Electric communication will never be the substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.
But oh, the conversations with those who know me best, whom I trust, who hold together the pieces of me: those conversations are priceless. It is the only time that I can communicate without worrying about herding kittens, and it is the best, fastest, and surest way to internal peace. Unfortunately for me, my three best friends live far enough away that I cannot see them all that often: one is two hours away in the Chicago suburbs, one is in Baltimore, and the third is farther still, in North Carolina. So while Dickens was right, he couldn’t have imagined the way that communication would transform into what it is now. I get a lot of flack for how often my phone is in my hand, but the truth of it is that I rely on my “electric communications” with my best friends. Throughout the day, they are my reality-checks, the stop-signs for my over-thinking brain, the truth-tellers amidst a barrage of negativity. The “ding!” of the Messenger app or the I’ve-got-a-text alert is sometimes the most beautiful thing to my ears. I treasure the times when we can manage a phone call or Skype or, even rarer, a chance to talk face-to-face, but for now, I’ll take what I can get, because I know that behind those bits of electric communication are the faces and hearts who know me best.
I love to communicate. I love to share ideas and stories and get to know the hearts and minds of other people. I just also find it terrifying and challenging. I wish that I could skip past the getting-to-know-you part and already know you so that I don’t have to herd as many kittens while we talk. For starters, though, let’s start with a text, an IM, a postcard, or a note delivered by owl, and know that when I meet you or see you the first few times, I’m not trying to be cold or stand-off-ish or weird or offensive or a know-it-all, I’m trying to play the water glasses and herd kittens. Don’t worry when I stare intently at my coffee cup or fidget with Silly Putty the whole time (a FANTASTIC help for those with GAD!). I’m not checking out. I am trying that much harder to get to know you.