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  • Writer's pictureJohn Selzer

Bad Connection

What is spoken and what is heard don’t always line up.

Have you ever said something only to have the words fall flat immediately after they leave your lips? Those that not just miss the bull’s-eye, but the target altogether – and wind up stuck in the wall behind. Or worse, they raise the hackles of your audience and an argument ensues.

Wait; why you mad, bro?

When we speak or interact with others, we usually think only of ourselves. What we need. What we want to say or do. And once those words have been set free or an action in motion, then our internal transaction is complete and we are ready to move on.

It is not (always) that we are selfish (or self-centered). We often simply fail to remember that it takes two to tango. That every conversation or interaction has another side. One that might not think the same, have divergent expectations, be in a different emotional state or have all the same information.

To be effective, our message has to stick the landing. It must click with the audience. A lamp will not light unless the plug is properly seated in the outlet. Get it right, and you illuminate the room. Miss the mark and you sit (sadly) in darkness.

That is why it is so important to look beyond your own nose and consider the whole picture.

When I was a rising freshman at Hampden-Sydney College (a 244-year old gem that you probably have not heard of), every new student received a copy of You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation by Dr. Deborah Tannen. As part of the upcoming orientation, we were to have read the book and be prepared to interact around the topic when on campus.

When I tore open the envelope and discovered the book inside, my 18 year-old self thought, “Aw, man; college hasn’t even started and I already have homework.” What I did not realize at the time was that it would set in motion a lifelong learning on effective communication. Instead, my first reactions were (a) retrospective: “So that is why she got mad at me when I said that…”, and (b), forward-looking: “This is going to help with the ladies!” (I was 18 and single at the time, so cut me some slack on that last one.)

Although the book specifically focused on communication between the sexes, my takeaways were much more broad and far reaching. It brought to my attention that communication is a two-way street where both drivers should be given equal latitude. There is no back without a well-delivered forth.

And this applies whether you are having a casual conversation, a serious tête-à-tête with a loved one, making a business development call or pitching an investor. If you do not consider – and tailor the message to – your specific audience in that specific moment, it is likely the connection will be missed. And the opportunity lost, or the end of a relationship.


Go ahead; speak your mind. Use your own words. Act – with intention, because that’s when it really counts. But don’t forget to be considerate in your delivery and body language. Take the other side into account. Every. Single. Time.

Wear your heart on your sleeve, sure. But don’t let the leftover emotion or baggage lingering there from some unrelated event creep into the here and now. Do so, and you are dead in the water.

No one but you knows your intentions. For those of us not inside your head, we can only interpret (and react to) what is done or said in the here and now – and to the tone and manner in which it is delivered.

So, let's work together to bring 'effective' to our daily communications and interactions.

Oh, and save the snarl for when you really mean it.


This band was a staple of my formative years. Just edgy enough to be considered alternative, but with a heavy dose of the synthesizers that make 80s music immediately recognizable. This song, in particular, is a favorite from their 1982 album, Upstairs at Eric’s. It is the musical equivalent of the “Can you hear me now?” commercials. I may or may not have rewound the cassette countless times, first on my jam box (or Walkman) and then later in my piece of crap first car, to listen to this song again and again.

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