Matthew 7:12: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.”
One of the hardest things in all of social relationships is communicating effectively. To communicate effectively, you have to have a speaker who communicates in a way that a person who is actively listening can comprehend. This may sound simple in theory, but it is not a simple task in practice as people are complex creatures, who have various desires, fears, have different forms of attention, different interpretations of signs, etc., all of which can lead us to communicative and pay attention in ways that doesn’t always get the clear message across.
However, there is one thing that causes more communicative problems than anything else: communicative anxiety. We all have anxiety about communication. It is a natural phenomenon that we experience because we are always concerned about being rejected, being misinterpreted, etc. Communication, especially about matters that are of emotional importance, can be an anxiety-laden process.
Consequently, we often use implicit communication to try to get messages across. It provides a buffer for us to deal with things that cause us anxiety about messages we are concerned about. At the same time, it often functions as a form of control in that it allows us a form of plausible deniability if things don’t go the way we want. It simultaneously allows us to shield ourselves while trying to have an effect on another person. Implicit communication is an act of asymmetrical communicative power.
This is not an issue every know and then, as most people have buffers for such forms of communication. A person who flirts with another person in a largely veiled way doesn’t start a habit of implicit communication. The problem comes, however, when this implicit communication occurs habitually. Implicit communication becomes a form of control.
The problem with prolonged implicit communication is the way people have to fill in the gaps. Implicit communication leaves out explicit information such that people have to provide it in their interpretation. People’s desires, fears, past experiences, and the context it occurs in all play a role in filling in the gaps. However, at the same time, for those people who are more observant about the phenomenon of gap-filling, they tend to be put into a place of cognitive ambiguity and uncertainty and ask “Does this mean this?” This then leads the recipient of repeated implicit communication to have to deal with anxiety and uncertainty.
Under such conditions, one style of dealing with implicit communication that causes confusion, concern, or misinterpretation is to try to encourage explicit communication. This is typically the healthiest response. However, many people are not always forthcoming on this front. If is important to suss out what is being intended, another strategy to provide clarity is to try certain responses out to see what comes from the other person.
So, for people who rely on implicit communication, there are two things to consider the longer the implicit communication strategy goes on. Firstly, accept that your implicit communication may cause anxiety or concern and recognize this may actively interfere with your communicative goals. This is particularly important if you are communicating about matter that you know are related to a person’s trauma, as the traumatic memories may provide a lot of gap-filling if there is a lot of implicit communication to decode. In doing this, taking responsibility for your own style of communication will allow you to be more open to consider how to more effectively communicate.
Secondly, consider either moving to explicit communication or consider dropping the message altogether. Let Jesus’ words “Do to others as you would have them do to you” be your guide on this, as Jesus words are the most reliable words we have for trying to build the type of relationships we do or do not want. If you want people to understanding your communication, then be willing to have them communicate with you. Or, if you want people to leave something alone, consider if your implicit communication is keeping it active and leave it alone yourself. The problem with relying on implicit communication long term is that it works against Jesus’ words: it circumvents the righteous relationship building that Jesus’ words speak to and substitutes it for a form of control.