Communication can be hard.

We speak different languages.

It’s more than the differences of French, English and Chinese. Professions, practices, software and each of us as individuals has a different language.

You can imagine the barriers to communicating across all of these different languages.

There are intentional barriers, the ones we set to make it difficult for others to communicate within our community, thereby limiting their ability to participate (I clearly have a lot to say about participation).

There are also unintentional barriers, the invisible barriers that are difficult to identify because we don’t necessarily see them as such. Our ability to communicate can be enhanced or impeded by our ability to understand and speak the language of others. This is much more than a country label. This is about non-verbal cues, facial expressions, humor, pain and distress. It’s about the words that trigger anger, frustration, desire and avoidance.

When we want to participate in a relationship, we have to be able to communicate. We learn communication styles, or languages, if you will, from our family, our friends, our social interactions (or lack thereof) and our experiences. We choose, consciously or not, our individual language of communication. It’s more than style, we choose a manner of speech, tone and expression that match both our perception of ourselves and the image we want to project.

When we meet someone who speaks our language it’s a great experience because we already understand them and can jump right into a relationship. Friction is easier to resolve, communication happens much more naturally and the language barrier doesn’t exist. However, when we meet someone who speaks a language different from our own, the time and energy it takes to learn their language and the frustrations that result from that can overcome our attraction to them or the reason we sought to communicate with them in the first place.

This is as true for colleagues as it is for friends and lovers. Have to work with someone who speaks a different language? It’s frustrating. You’re trying to learn their language and they aren’t making a similar attempt? Deeply frustrating. You then spend a lot of your energy devising ways to undercut them or take them down rather than focusing on the work.

Same with dating. You find someone very attractive but y’all can’t seem to communicate? You probably speak different languages. You’re willing to try to learn theirs but they aren’t willing to offer you the same courtesy? They’ve just communicated that they don’t value you and you are far better off moving on to the next thing.

And that’s really the point. When we make the effort to learn another person’s language, we communicate that we value them. That we are willing to invest in them. That we are confident enough in ourselves to step out of our own comfort and be challenged. We communicate that we are willing to learn and adapt and expand to include them. When we don’t make that effort (or when they don’t), we make a clear statement:

I don’t give a shit.