In the spot on the site where we chat about mental health and staying communicated, a few words inspired by, well, Spandau Ballet.

There’s a rather daft song by Spandau Ballet, Communication, that refers to quaint old technology deemed cutting edge in the 1980s. Like Telex. Or fax. And is all about communication letting the boys down.

I was reminded of this when Alexa (yes, my inanimate Echo) and I fell foul of one another, in my fruitless attempts to find any other radio station than Planet Rock. It greatly amused the husband hearing me having an argument with a smart speaker, but it did make me think about communication, and the issues that can be caused when it’s misunderstood.

I suck at online communication. I babble inanely on Zoom. Have to self impose pauses before firing off pithy retorts on social media. Tried to answer a question on a Teams training course and found that I’d lost the ability to form coherent sentences with my mouth. And now I’m moving back into the physical world, I’m struggling with face to face conversation too.

I’m lucky to live with someone, and we yap at each other all the time. When you’ve been together for over 20 years, you don’t have to speak sense for the other person to understand what you’re wittering on about. I’m discovering, to my embarrassment, that to the outside world, at the moment I’m not translating well.

I’m dealing with doctors, solicitors, uptight interested parties and so on right now. There’s a way to communicate that gets things moving with the least feathers ruffled possible. And then there’s the shouting at Alexa full on breakdown in communication that I’m experiencing elsewhere. Everyone seems as rusty as I am at this verbal thing.

Perhaps I’m generalising, but it’s making me focus on clarity. Of thought, of speech, of instructions. It may sound excessive, but when I’m preparing for those difficult conversations, I’m bullet-pointing my conversational path. I’m even including polite, gently encouraging phrases. Sugar sweetens the pill far more than cyanide.

It’s helpful, too, to see beyond the treeline when dealing with complex, emotive issues. Putting them at length, ascribing a bulleted function point to them that can be ticked off when complete helps to hold emotions at bay so they don’t muddy the words that leave my mouth. I’m not denying the emotions are there, and they will be acknowledged in private. What I don’t need is for those emotions to destroy a fragile system of cooperation that has taken time to build.

I wonder how many other people are finding themselves in a similar situation, as we move cautiously out of lockdown. Has normal shifted? How will we deal with other people when we return to rubbing shoulders and inhabiting the same coffee shops and offices? Online communication has been essential over this past year for communication, but there’s a whole host of offline communication that has been screened out.

We’ve been tucked away inside for so long it might be that our word dams burst and spill and drown out caution. Be thoughtful of what you want to say, while enjoying the words of others again.

Once the initial hugging and talking is over, once our throats are raw with pouring out our pent-up words, we may need to move with caution as we sharpen our rusty social cues again. There’s a lot of anxiety out there. To quote Neil Gaiman – ‘There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.’

I’m still arguing with Alexa. Still haven’t found Radio X. That’s okay, I’ll sing along with Planet Rock a little longer. The other voices will wind their way back into my life in time. And I’m always happy to have a chat with any voices that want to say hello right here, below the line.

Take care, and thanks for reading.

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