The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own – populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries, and inherited craziness – an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground. With elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk. This unfathomable idea has a word and that word is sonder.
Sonder is so simple, yet complex, infinite, and unimaginable, but it is compacted all into six letters. Six letters can describe everything happening and not happening around you at this very moment. You begin to think of just how amazing that is. How amazing every word you say, write, yell, and cry truly is. The first-time hearing this you might be terrified of how little you comparatively are, excited about the endless opportunities you can find, or amazed at the complexities around you. When you begin to stop focusing on yourself, you begin to look externally at the people, places, and things that have their own stories and ideas, you begin to realize that every word you speak has more power behind it than you can ever imagine.
So, ask yourself, why is it so hard to communicate when one six-letter word can describe something so unfathomable. Why is it so hard to share your sadness, wants, and worries with others? Many people are scared to communicate their emotions because they have built a wall, a wall of their anxieties and fairytales of what might happen. Well, I am here to say that nothing will ever happen if you don’t communicate. Your story will be lost at the bottom of a deep dark ocean of thoughts and what-ifs? You should be excited that you have the opportunity to share the complexities of your emotions, no matter if it is happy or sad. You should be astonished at what might come from communicating your wants or needs, not scared of what the outcome might be. Do not be afraid of the opportunities that might arise and turn out poorly, but be afraid of the opportunities that never occurred because you didn’t pursue them.
Because of the extreme complexity of words, many people struggle immensely to successfully communicate with others. To be an effective communicator, there are three main skills, a triangle of perfect balance: clear communication, knowledge of your audience, and connectivity. This triangle of ideas creates a foundation that you can build the strongest conversation.
The first key skill is clear communication. As stated, before words can be extremely complex but virtually no words are simple enough to have a shared vision between two people. Take the word apple for example. Everyone knows an apple is a fruit that grows on trees and is eaten and enjoyed by millions. However, if you are explaining a story to a friend of the most amazing apple you ate on a trip you took to Poland, the word apple wouldn’t be enough to describe that. What was the color of the apple? Was it small or large? Did it crunch when you took a bite out of it? Or was it the sweetest tasting apple you have ever had? When answering these questions, you might come out with a description such as: “I had the most amazing tasting apple ever. It was a Jonagold apple the size of a baseball! Its mixture of gold and red made an almost sunset design that covered the entire thing. When I bit into it the sound of the crunch rung across the room only to be followed by my mouth being flooded with juices as sweet as honey.” This simple example can be used in even more complex situations such as explaining the hardships of a breakup or the excitement of finally getting into graduate school.
When trying to achieve perfect clear communication it is a good technique to answer the questions “why?” and “How?” before your audience can ask it. This creates a conversation in which both people, the speaker, and the audience, have a shared vision. The goal of a clear communicator is to be able to have an almost mirror image of what is in your mind and the other person’s mind.
The second key skill of effective communication is knowing your audience. Knowing your audience can go a long way in all aspects of conversation, whether it is personal, work-related, or argumentative. In the society that has been constructed around us, there are social norms that range across demographics, ethnic groups, religions, and households. With this in mind, it is vital to understand whom you are talking to and how you are going to talk to them. First, I should start by saying that there should rarely be a time that an audience changes the goal of your conversation. However, boundaries are something to be very wary of. Things such as sharing too much personal information with a co-worker can lead to an uncomfortable conversation and possible consequences. But, talking to your childhood friend about a problem that occurred with a boyfriend or girlfriend of yours almost has none. Each person has a different level of information they feel comfortable being shared with them. You would possibly go to your manager if you were seeking to solve a problem with your 401K or the type of health plan you should select.
Knowing your audience and what they are capable of doing for you is an important skill that is harped on constantly but often looked past. People will often go to the wrong person for the wrong information, and even though that person might answer your question it might not be the person that provides the best opportunity for you. Another example that occurs constantly is going to an advisor or guidance counselor for high school students about what they want to pursue in life. Often these counselors have hundreds of students they are in charge of. A single human can’t know the interests and complexities of every single student at that school. These advisors will often make you take a test that identifies areas of interest and then provides you with occupational studies that fall into that area. Although this tactic might give you an answer, it doesn’t provide the best possible outcome.
For a situation like this you should have a conversation with yourself (yes, yourself can be an audience and person to talk to). You should sit down and analyze what in life truly makes you happy, not a test. What subjects do I like in school? Can I see myself doing this for the rest of my life? Do I want to go to college? These are all questions that no one else can answer for you and it is often hard for people to understand that you hold the answer to many of the major questions in your life like, how can I live my happiest life? And do I want to marry this person? When someone begins to understand that these questions can be answered internally, a new door is unlocked and often left open to be used over and over again.
To master the skill of knowing your audience it is important to test the ambits of your audience, especially yourself. Identify what they can offer you and why you are talking to that person. This skill will never be mastered by anyone but, you can become better at it every single day.
The third and final skill is connectivity. Connectivity is often replaced by many people with the phrase, “Gain respect” or build “Ethos”. Although these may prove effective in many situations, they don’t cover the majority of conversations you have daily. When building credibility or trying to gain respect you often place yourself in a position of superiority, saying you are more knowledgeable than your audience. This might be effective when writing an argumentative essay in your English or sociology course but, often proves disadvantageous when used in anything else.
The fact of the matter is that when communicating with another person you are both filled with emotions and stories that represent who you are. These stories can have effects on mindset, personality, or physical abilities but, these stories are what make each person different. Something is amazing about how an experience someone had years prior can affect their entire future and being able to connect on a level of that magnitude is more powerful than any ethos or credibility someone can build. There is something about the human species that connecting on a shared experience or idea can aid any situation.
The best example of this is the Christmas Truce of 1914. For those of you that don’t know this astonishing story, it began the night of Christmas eve on the western front during World War I. As British troops sat in the trenches across the long, cold, dark, and deathly open plain of no man’s land, they began to hear German troops singing silent night. The allies wondering what was happening slowly began to join in, singing Christmas carols as the night continued. It was even reported that brass bands were heard playing to the tunes of songs. The following morning, as the sun broke the horizon, German troops popped their heads out one by one cheering “Merry Christmas” in the allies’ native tongue. When the allies saw the Germans were holding no weapons, they did the same and met in the middle of no-mans-land to shake hands. For the rest of the day, this mutual ceasefire was accompanied by presents of plum puddings and cigars being exchanged, Christmas trees being lit, and even a report of a soccer game with members of both sides’ happenings.
In one of the world’s most significant and destructive wars, people of different cultures, backgrounds, beliefs, languages, and countries were able to connect over one thing, Christmas. One simple celebration of the birth of Jesus was able to stop what years of war and arguments could not. These men found a connection with the people they were supposed to hate the most and managed to celebrate in the dead of winter during one of the world’s largest wars.
So, when looking at that person you are talking to across the table or on the other side of the phone, realize something. Realize that you may have different views and backgrounds but, you are both individuals just trying to get through your day. I challenge you to try and make that connection. Try and create a relationship that isn’t built on the normal foundations of society but built on the want and need of humans to connect with other people. These three skills are so simple and that is what’s so amazing about them. You can work on them every day and just by practicing them your communication in all aspects of life can rise to a level you never thought possible. You will begin to notice that these skills are like a dance, all of them connect in some way and when combined and used together they make dance so smooth and simple it leaves you in owe.