Understanding the Power of Communication: Fluff or Substance?

Many years ago I was talking to a friend who asked me what my teacher certification was. When I told her professional communication she responded with, 

“Oh, you just teach all the fluff.” 

I was a little taken aback, not offended by any means just a little confused. Communication skills are literally the most sought-after employment skills. We start to communicate in the womb and our purpose for living is relationship with others, which requires communication skills. Communication touches every single aspect of our lives, every relationship including our spiritual life. Our prayer life even includes communication skills.

Now full disclosure my friend taught higher level math. I’m all for teaching higher level math in high school. But calling communication fluff?  Just Belittles it to mean nothing. As if communication skills don’t matter at all. 

So why did my friend refer to communication skills as fluff? Two reasons, one because it was never taught to her or any of us and two, she like most everyone else takes our ability to communicate for granted simply for the reason that it is natural, and we have done it for so long, even before we were born. 

Babies start communicating, at least with their mothers, before birth. They learn language in the womb (Kuhl and Moon, 2013). Kuhl suggests that babies during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy are capable of listening and absorbing information. Child psychologists will suggest that the father speak to the baby in the womb, and that parents should play music for the baby. Research is also showing that unborn babies will respond to a mother’s touch (Marx and Nagy, 2015). Babies have a tendency to move more in the womb while mom rubs or strokes her belly. This research also showed that although the babies respond to their mothers’ voice, the reaction was greater during touch. We communicate before we’re born no wonder we all think we don’t need to be taught. 

Any woman that has carried a baby knows what their baby likes or dislikes when it comes to food. We know if a baby is active or docile. Ultrasounds can show babies yawning, or sucking its little thumb, which is a method of self-soothing. 

Here’s my own personal story. The technician at one of my ultrasounds captured a picture of one of my babies screaming. I mean mouth wide open, face scrunched up. I’m not sure how sound waves work in the womb, but it had all the indications of a scream, not a yawn, a scream, not audible obviously. One of my other babies jump and rolled around like crazy during his ultrasound. Still the other was pictured, hands above his head, legs completely spread out, like he was relaxing in the sun. All three of these actions by each one of my kids was a foreshadowing to their personality. One child could never sit still, one was chill as could be and the other, well she did scream a lot that first year of life. 

Newborns immediately start communicating. They vocalize, sometimes a grunt when they are trying to turn over, sometimes a scream when they are happy. They learn to smile, and they cry to communicate a need. Some folks believe that a crying baby is an unhappy baby because we associate tears with pain, discomfort, or sadness. A baby uses its cry to communicate all of its needs. The baby will cry when she just wants attention. They also use their eyes, mouth, arms, and legs to communicate. 

You know what else we do before we are born? Eat. 

Don’t you ever wonder why, if we have all been eating before we were born, we haven’t figured this nutrition thing out by now, not to mention our communication processes? We suffer with a massive obesity problem and a trail of broken relationships. The problem with nutrition, like communication, is it isn’t taught to us. In an in-depth way.

 I do remember learning about the food pyramid when I was in school, way back in the seventies, but that is all I remember about my education about nutrition. No one ever taught us about how our bodies work.  How we metabolize nutrients. How much exercise we really need? 

The truth is most of us don’t eat well. We have plenty to eat most of the time, we just don’t understand nutritional health. We eat what we want, then we diet. We exercise, we eat more. We count calories but most of us can’t even define what a calorie is. We cut sugar and carbs but increase fruit and vegetable intake, not realizing fruit and veggies are sugar and carbs. We don’t read labels. We wouldn’t know what most of the ingredients are even if we did. We buy low or no sugar products but poison ourselves with artificial sweetener. We don’t know what a serving is, because food is measured in grams. Fast food and chain restaurants make a killing while homemade ma and pop scratch kitchens barely get by. Many people brag about not cooking, not being able to but also just not wanting to. The list goes on and on. 

Nutritional health is hard because nutritional science is complicated, deep, and has many layers, like an onion and most of us just have surface knowledge. We know somethings, but it stops just below the surface. And without a degree in nutrition, we just do the best we can. The thing is….

We all know this. We know that nutrition is complicated. We know that we struggle. We know that we need help. We get frustrated because we gain a little weight, get out of shape but then we ask for help, and we try, and sometimes we succeed, but sometimes we relapse. But we all understand how complicated and difficult it is. We congratulate those who have lost weight, we empathize for those who are trying. We celebrate our own weight loss success but lose our self-confidence when we gain. When we decide to eat healthy, we try only to find out what was healthy ten years ago is not healthy today, I mean what’s up with tomatoes. But worse what we were told as kids was unhealthy is now being billed as healthy, eggs right? Nutrituional health is also a lifelong process.

Human communication is a lot like nutrition, as it is also like an onion. It has many layers, and is a lifelong process.

The two big differences between communication and nutrition is first although we eat and communicate before we are born, we no longer require nourishment after we pass on however, we continue to communicate long after we are dead. I don’t mean that we talk to ghosts. What I mean is that our words continue to live on after we are gone. We hear the voices of our loved one, parents, grandparents after they’re gone. Their words of wisdom, their little sayings, their inappropriate jokes that we wouldn’t have dreamed of repeating while they were alive, we do after their death because we consider them enduring and even cute. 

We quote famous people that have influenced us and left us with their own inspirational words. Activists like Martin Luther King Jr, presidents like Abraham Lincoln, authors, teachers, philosophers, the list goes one. Our words don’t die when we do, they continue. 

The second big difference is that we don’t realize the struggles with our own communication. Like we do with our diet and weight issues. We may notice a problem in a relationship but don’t understand that it all comes down to how we communicate. We always assume of course it’s the other person. 

We usually don’t blame our nutritional health issues on other people. We take a look at ourselves in the mirror, and after trying to button that top button, or when we get winded on one flight of stairs we can no longer live in denial. We can very easily pinpoint the problems, what we eat or when, or how much, and needing more exercise. It’s easy to see. We call friends and get into walking groups, we join gyms. We physically see and physically feel the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle. 

But when our relationships struggle, we don’t recognize our own problems. We think we are fine, and when problems are pointed out we get defensive and angry. We never like to be told that we are not communicating well. We like to come to the realization of change ourselves, like with our nutritional issues, we notice we can’t button the top button we don’t want anyone else to notice and we certainly don’t like other people pointing it out.

 But when our relationships struggle what do we do when we look in the mirror?  We give ourselves a pep talk. We encourage our own behavior. We blame shift. We call friends and meet in groups to talk about what the other person did or has done. We self-care, we take trips, we spend money, we drink and eat, we walk out, we leave, we find new relationships, new friends. We never think of our broken relationships and our negative communicative behaviors as an unhealthy lifestyle.  

But they are.

And when we start over and have the same problems, we do the same thing, and keep the cycle going. We have a very difficult time admitting our own faults when it comes to how we communicate, pinpointing the problems, calling friends and putting support groups together, everything that we do when we want to change how we look and feel physically because of the food we eat, we throw out the window when it comes to our relationships.


Because Physical problems are easy to see. We can see weight gain; we can feel it when we can’t get up a flight of steps. 

The mental problems of our communication habits are much harder to see. It is much easier to justify our behavior when we are talking about our communication styles or personality. It’s not so easy to justify eating a whole cake every weekend when the scale keeps tipping upward. 

All of our relationships, hinge on our communication successes and failures.  All relationships succeed with effective communication, and all fail without effective communication.  This does not mean that all relationships cease to exist; it just means that they do not measure up; they have not attained a favorable or desirable outcome for both parties. We may still be in the relationship, but the relationship is fractured, has stopped normal function, and has fallen short.  

Think about all the relationships that you are involved in, how many are successful, meaning they have reached a favorable and desirable state? If so, how did that relationship get there? Was it easy? Or did it take some work? How many have failed, not ceased or terminated, just have fallen short, or are fractured and broken? These relationships may eventually terminate, or they may just continue in a  state of stagnation, where the relationship neither grows nor fades it just is, neither party is happy they just are.  Simply because we do not understand the concepts involved in communicating with others, nor do we understand how to effectively communicate with ourselves. 

The ability to communicate well is at the forefront of success or failure in work and life. Effective communication skills will fulfill our basic human needs from many psychologists like Schutz, Maslow, and even God, needs of affection, inclusion, belonging, and prayer. 

Understanding the communication process is relevant for every single person, young, old, and in between. I believe that human communication is the building block of humanness.

Fluff? Really?  Well, If communication is fluff, or of no significance, than so is relationship.