Entering a new communication paradigm

I (Cathy) have recently found myself in a new communication predicament. Diagnosed with vocal cord nodules, I have been instructed not to speak for 8 weeks. So here I am, and after only two weeks into my ‘treatment,’ I have observed some interesting things about peoples’ communication patterns.

  1. Since I can’t talk, people often whisper to me. I’m not sure why, but they do, or…
  2. They get MUCH LOUDER. I can hear just fine, but for some reason this is the reaction.
  3. People gesture wildly. Again, I can hear them, but they clearly need to emphasize what they are saying.

I could theorize about the reasons why they do this: a need overcompensate for my sake; empathy perhaps; or they are just plain uncomfortable with the situation. But wait, there is more…

I started carrying a note pad to write messages to communicate and discovered these patterns:

  1. If the message is longer than two sentences, people get restless. The common quip is “Are you writing a novel?”
  2. Once I start to write an answer, if they don’t want to wait, they answer their posed question for me! I am always fascinated by ‘my response.’
  3. Some people prefer me to print as opposed to write, so I have to rewrite/print the message. My son actually told me to “just text him” at the dinner table. (BTW, my handwriting has improved dramatically due to the necessity of being understood)

In an effort to be more current and efficient, I started using the “speak feature” on my iPad and iPhone, but this has its own set of complications:

  1. The response process: typing, highlighting the text, and then tapping the ‘speak’ feature, takes less time than it does for me to write a note in longhand, yet people are less patient with the electronic process. I suspect they feel it should be immediate.
  2. Most people have trouble understanding the electronic voice. They frequently say, “I didn’t get that.” I think it’s because the intonation is usually off. I often have to repeat the message. (I have totally given up on using a ‘cool’ voice app as people can’t understand the regular voice. I was hoping to use the Stephen Hawkings app).
  3. Instead of listening to the voice again, often people reach for my iPhone to read the message in print for themselves, but sometimes the print is too small for them to read, so I have to enlarge it- which takes even more time.
  4. Interestingly, people often want to type their response on my iPad instead of speaking back to me. They take the iPad right out of my hands to do this. I also tried using the chat feature on Skype so I could respond to the person on the screen, but the other person only wanted to type in chat too. Although they were right there in front of me, and were perfectly capable of talking- they didn’t! This leads me to believe that people are getting more comfortable communicating through print  than speaking.

Finally, I play a large role in this and am just a quirky:

  1. I often try to mouth the words which becomes a great game of “guess what Cathy is trying to say.”
  2. As I am familiar with rudimentary sign language, having taken several courses to communicate with my niece and having taught in a total language classroom, that is my default. I sign to people, which of course they don’t understand because it is another language! One friend told me “I have no idea what you are saying, but I love to watch.”

Sadly, my friends and colleagues who are ELL totally empathize with me, as they tell me this is all too familiar for them. I truly feel for them now.

All in all, this is a fascinating study in multimodal communications. Mostly, I just listen. I was told that people pay a great deal of money to attend ‘silent retreats,’ so I am trying to treat this like a gift in self-discovery. Apparently, I have a lot to learn.


About Dr. Cathy Miyata

Cathy Miyata is a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is also an acclaimed storyteller and writer. She has performed and lectured in Serbia, Japan, Malaysia, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Mexico, the United States, Egypt, and across Canada

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