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Learning to Communicate Beyond Words and Talking

communicationwithouttalking

I once read that the difference between activities that cool kids do and uncool kids do is that uncool kids’ activities tend to be based in rules and cool kids’ less so. I don’t know how you’d verify the idea, but I found exploring it told me about myself. Uncool kids play chess, which has clear rules. You can count the possible states. Cool kids play football. Football has rules, but loosely describing the boundaries, not the state of play. Football players shine when the strategy falls apart and they have to improvise. Uncool kids dance partner dances with structured rules. Cool kids dance more free style and make things up as they go. A lot of structured partner dances probably emerged from cool kids’ unstructured dances. Football and free-style dances have rules, but less so.

I spent most of my life trying to learn the rules of life better so I could succeed in life better. I tried to fit in. Only in my thirties did I ask where the rules I tried to follow came from, then who they served—me or society. Eventually I saw them coming from institutions like government, Madison Avenue, religion, and others in whose rules I had no interest in following when I thought about it consciously. I was nonetheless unconsciously following these rules like a puppy.

Eventually, I asked if these rules had any tangible reality and found they only existed as much as I believed them.

My coming into my own has been challenging rules I didn’t like, liberating myself from these phantoms, creating rules that served me better, and living by my own. Others may see me breaking rules. I live as structured a life as anyone I know, but it’s my structure. How do you figure out what to do if you don’t do what others tell you? You have to think and learn your values. In my case these questions replaced obedience with compassion, empathy, reciprocity, meaning, value, importance, purpose, passion, and the like.

My continued maturation has come through accepting that the people who created those rules I didn’t like and tried to impose them on me weren’t trying to take advantage of me but were doing what they thought best, just like me.

The challenge brought me freedom and the maturation brings me understanding. Most of the change I’m talking about manifested in how I communicated and what I could express and understand. Most of this came through expanding my understanding of language and communication beyond speaking, into non-verbal communication, body language, and behavior.

Professor of NYU
Joshua Spodek co-founded and led several ventures. He coaches and teaches leadership, entrepreneurship, sales, and related skills at Columbia Business School and NYU using experiential, project-based learning. He holds five Ivy League degrees, including an Astrophysics PhD and an MBA, and studied under a Nobel Laureate. He helped build an X-ray satellite for the European Space Agency and NASA, and holds six patents. His current passion is developing methods to master business's soft skills, even for geeks like him.