When it comes to interpersonal relations, there are no shortcuts. We can either pay now or pay later, but either way we will have to pay. Communication takes time. And when I say “pay,” I mean taking that time.
We might convince ourselves that we are in such a hurry — or are upset, or feel misunderstood, or think the other person doesn’t deserve our efforts to be nice — that we do not have time for the usual politeness. But when we put aside courtesy for expedience, it may be received as off-putting by others. We create hurt feelings and end up having to apologize or defend our behavior — either to ourselves, to the offended party, or to some third person we hope will help us justify our rude behavior and lessen our remorse. All of this takes considerably more time than using effective, polite communication in the first place — especially when we consider that even if we do apologize, the damage is seldom completely undone.
It is not easy to detect negativity in our own messages. We often transmit impatience, sarcasm, annoyance, or judgmental feelings unawares. These may be conveyed by our word choice, intonation, facial expressions, body language as well as by our speaking quickly or raising our voices — even a little. (A wise person once observed that the only time we are justified in raising our voices is when the building is on fire.) Perhaps we begin to suspect we have given offense by discerning the negative reactions mirrored by our listeners.
Next time we feel inclined to take a communication shortcut, we might try being especially solicitous and careful. And let’s not forget to speak softly and slowly. We can either pay now or we can pay later. But remember, when we choose to pay later we will have to pay with interest.
Gregorio Billikopf is a labor management farm advisor for the University of California. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.