Imagine an accident that no one is injured. Yes, there is no material damage; however, the loss is great… Victims are complaining; one about being misunderstood, and the other one about not being listened… What follows is divorce, or resignation, spoiled children, or rebellious teenagers… We asked about our mistakes at communication to Prof. Dr. Doğan Cüceloğlu, Turkey’s one of the most important psychologist specialized in communication.

You name some of our mistakes at communication as ‘accidents.’ Why do you choose this expression?
I say ‘accidents’ because when one party doesn’t comprehend the message or replies to a misunderstood message, since you cannot replay communication things enter a way with no return. You might pronounce the same words in the same order; however, they won’t create the same effect on you or on the other party.

If we were to generalize, what is the underlying reason of communication accidents?
Our experiences… since we first began to communicate… Imagine; a mother is tying the shoes of her five-year-old son as murmuring ‘you raise your son, and then he marries to a strange woman someday and forgets all about his mama.’ The kid grows up and then marries. However, when he feels himself close to his wife, he thinks about forgetting his mother and blames himself for it. He feels that when he puts a distance between him and his wife, his promise to his mother is going to be fulfilled. Is it not a familiar story? Unfortunately, this is a part of our culture, and we don’t even realize its damages. Otherwise, no mother would want to harm her child that way.

Are there any traps like this for girls, too?
You bet there are! Many mothers warn their daughters about men having no appreciation of women. They tell their daughters that, if they tolerate them at the beginning, it would only get worse later. Women want to be powerful; however, their muscle force may not be fit. So, they take the war for power to another level. Men’s side warn them against women and the fight begins even before the marriage does. The families of the couple are the ones who actually start the fight. Both sides try to lure their children on their side out of fear of loss. This might cause breaking the ties.

Are there any other accidents causing communication accidents within the classic structure of the Turkish society?
I can tell that some norms shape us. After living in Europe for a long time, I moved back to Turkey and I said ‘good morning’ to a woman one morning when I was walking in Caddebostan. She yelled at me for hitting on her and left. I have told about this incident during one of my seminars and a male listener said, “She was right. What if her husband saw what happened; wouldn’t he ask her how do you know this man?” He was right. Mine was an accident. I didn’t follow the rules and had to face the consequences.

What type of mistakes do we make when we communicate with people we don’t know?
We make the first mistake when we don’t know when the communication begins. Things that you do or don’t have a message value. Staring at the ceiling in an elevator in the company of others is a message sent to them. If there is a message, it means the communication has begun. Its health can be arguable; however, its existence is a fact. For instance, in our society, when children come across to a stranger they keep their head down. You ask ‘What is your name?’ they don’t answer; you try to grab their attention, they don’t react and it is considered as normal. However, reactions of children are very different in many other societies; when children meet with new people they are curious to know them and they like to chat with them. When they see someone new, they try to draw their attention; because they are aware that they are young individuals.

Is not taking our children seriously what causes communication accidents?
Did you know that the word of communication has entered Turkish in 1972? Why; because being an individual had not carried any importance until then. A father would say, ‘…and this is our oldest son,’ when he was introducing him to someone. Our children have grown up with having nothing to show that they were individuals, too. However; they are little humans and they should be taken seriously. If you show them that you care about them and you respect their ideas, when you are communication with them, then there would be nothing to worry. When interacting with children make sure you are eye-to-eye with them and listen to what they have to say. This is the most important thing. Don’t ever look down on them.

What is the proper seat belt to use against communication accidents, so there won’t be injuries?
To listen. This is one of our biggest mistakes. When I say to listen, I don’t mean that being silent when the other party is talking; what I mean is to be all ears. For instance, in our society, parents would do anything for their children but they won’t take them seriously. When children would like to ask something, most parents don’t show enough patience, they don’t listen carefully, and make jokes about their mistakes.

How do we listen perfectly? 
I would like to explain this one through one of my experiences. During the years that I used to provide training abroad, I was visiting a family at home and when the child entered the living room; the grandfather kneeled in front of him to be at the same eye level with his grandson. I was amazed. I am a professor of psychology and I wouldn’t have thought of it. I had asked him, “Did you used to treat your kids the same way?” He said, “This is what I know: Children are small people.” In addition, when they are talking to kids they don’t say things such as ‘oh, what a cute boy, so sweet.” They make them feel that they are humans no matter how old they are.

Can we tell that in our society we raise children who don’t question?
Definitely. A child who cannot get answers and who is not taken seriously stops thinking. When your child asks you something, if you ask his opinion before answering, you will be encouraging him to think. This is the basis of how to raise a creative child. The students who used to take the most credit in my school in America were the ones who kept asking questions, and rejected many things. They were valuable because they had different ideas. They were encouraging others to question and think new things.

Do we always wear masks in our society just because we didn’t develop our self-confidence when we were children?
Actually, we wear our masks because we think that if we look like ourselves we would be alienated. We try to look like how we think the others would want to see us, not the way we actually are. This is also how we communicate. We shouldn’t take this only in a negative way; because, one cannot always be themselves in a society. The only problem is the masks we wear when we are with the people that we are in a close relationship with.

Rules for a damage-free communication

  • The style of communication is always superior to its contents, so be careful of your nonverbal messages.
  • First brain, then mouth should step in. In addition, sometime being silent is a way of communication.
  • Telling that others don’t understand us is actually ignoring to see our mistake. Start with questioning yourself.