I nearly lost a good friend over ‘communication noise’

I recently had one of the worst experiences ever of communication noise. It was one of the most profound examples of it I have ever experienced, and it completely changed how I perceived and related to a very close friend.

The good wife and I hosted a BBQ with a very good friend, and something happened, in a very specific set of circumstances, that completely changed how I saw my friend. A few conversations here and there over the last year also ‘clicked’ into this new paradigm, and while they did not prove this new and rather awful and unfair picture of my friend, they were certainly consistent with it.

So, combined with a few other pettier grievances, I marshalled my armies and fired a pre-emptive strike at my friend in one long opening salvo email which left my friend somewhat dumbfounded, and of course defensive.

The sad thing was we just couldn’t get past it for about 10 emails or so. My friend rightly wanted me to trust him that this ‘thing’ was not true of him, and yet the communication noise was so strong I just couldn’t let it go at that… I had to know more.

Finally, it all fell into place yesterday, and while wounded, I think our friendship will be salvageable. And it leaves me feeling like a goose. Or is that more like an elaborate practical joke has been played on us? As I was not alone in this… my wife also became quite concerned from what she saw at the BBQ.

No! No details will be given, no names mentioned, and no suspicions will be forthcoming. Suffice to say, I hope I don’t ever experience such a freakishly strong example of ‘noise’ ever again.

The sad thing is that clear and honest communication after such a powerful misinterpretation can be very difficult. And everyone is a victim… the person duped by the circumstances, the friend under attack, everyone involved feels either angry or attacked or misunderstood at the time. I mean, I’m the one writing the cranky emails here, and yet even I feel like a victim of the sheer unfairness of the circumstances I was in. I keep asking myself, “How was I able to interpret it any other way than the way I saw it?”

The bottom line? Try and give everyone the benefit of a doubt, and even when you feel sure that they’ve turned into a monster that you can’t possibly support, try and listen anyway.

And unless you get really flustered on the phone, as I sometimes do and feel I need to write it down to get it clear because I can struggle on the spot — don’t do it by email! Just call them. It could save a lot of angst.

Oh man! Back to basic communication 101….

Communication noise refers to influences on effective communication that influence the interpretation of conversations. While often looked over, communication noise can have a profound impact both on our perception of interactions with others and our analysis of our own communication proficiency.

Forms of communication noise include psychological noise, physical noise, physiological and semantic noise. All these forms of noise subtly, yet greatly influence our communication with others and are vitally important to anyone’s skills as a competent communicator.

via Communication noise – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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