The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
– George Bernard Shaw
Working in Long Beach this month has meant one key change in my life. I had to find a new coffee shop.
A connoisseur of both coffee and coffee shops, with two weeks left on my stay, I’ve got it down to two possibilities.
Exceedingly different spaces, one element keeps them neck and neck – people watching.
As I’m listening in on the conversations around me, I’m astounded at how few people are listening to the conversations they’re actually in.
“My brain’s not all there today,” says the barista at Contender A. She means it as an explanation as to the joke she made in conversation or the point she attempted to interject into a discussion didn’t quite land.
The thing is, she says her brain’s not all there today every day.
Based on my informal longitudinal study, this event is neither a singularity nor properly named.
As I learned in freshman speech class, communication isn’t a one-way street.
Last week, I took special care to listen to the patrons eliciting this admission of a daily lobotomy.
They weren’t listening. Or, they weren’t ready for a conversation. These people filed through the door for lattes and bagels. When the barista commented on their tattoos, their piercings and their hair; they didn’t know what to do. They weren’t ready to connect with another person.
It was, as it turned out, their brains that weren’t all there.
When I realized this, I got sad.
Here she was, attempting to connect through more than caffeine, and they weren’t gaming up to engage.
She kept offering up volleys to person after person, “Oh, that’s a great T-shirt. Where did you get it?”
“Huh? Oh, I don’t remember.”
Five minutes later, “I really like your sleeve. What does the middle part stand for?”
“Sleeve? Uh, that part’s for my mom,” then change in the tip jar and out the door.
Though it saddens me to see the barista feel failure time and again, what troubles me more in these scenarios is what the patrons are missing.
More times than I can count, I’ve listened to complaints that social networks are taking the place of genuine communication. I’m not sure if these missed communications are a result of declining social skills due to increased social networking or if people were never that attentive in the first place.
Either way, it’s moved me to be more attentive. When I’m engaged in conversation, I’m making a special effort to actually engage.
A friend trying to drum up funding for a new school remarked that she’d started a conversation with the person next to her on a recent plane flight.
Normally a flight recluse, she told me the conversation revealed her row mate was a land developer and social entrepreneur. Cards were exchanged and my friend is a step closer to her dream.
I don’t know that my barista is going to hold the keys to conversations that will help her customers realize their dreams. What she does offer and what so many of them are missing is the chance to connect to someone – even if just for a few minutes.