I grew up in a fairly large family: three boys, a girl and Mom and Dad. We had a gazillion aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents , relatives and friends.
Because of this, there were a LOT of communication channels, and as a natural part of her position in the family, that meant that Mom was a hub to a LOT of that communication.
So as we all grew up, and moved on with our lives, I began to see something interesting happen: because we all spoke less frequently, there would be times when we would hear about things in a very delayed fashion.
“Oh that was probably around the time that Aunt Jo died”
“Aunt Jo died?”
“Oh, I thought I told you, that was last year”
It took me a while to figure out what was going on, and see this sort of thing happen in my own life. As near as I can tell there are a few of reasons why we as humans have trouble with complex communication channels like the one I see in my family.
Reason 1 – Once we plan to communicate, we forget to do it.
Especially when we are busy, and have limited interaction with people, it is easy to plan to give a message to somebody and then get distracted with other things. In the case of the family dynamic, as we were no longer all in the same household, fewer opportunities to actually say the things that are planned to be said wer available, meaning there were more opportunities for distraction between plan and action.
Reason 2 – Once we verbalize to some people, it’s hard to remember who we talked to.
A huge survival trait we all share as humans is generalization, and our subconscious tends to exhibit this with the people we are closest with. If you’ve ever heard a parent run through all the children’s names before hitting the right one, you know what I’m talking about.
And because the subconscious doesn’t really differentiate much between planning to do something and actually doing it, the plan we made to talk to four other people, really does seem complete once we’ve talked to some portion of them, because we thought about talking to them all.
Reason 4 – Priorities change.
When we plan to communicate, we know it’s important but with limited opportunity for that communication, other things come up that mean we don’t get around to it, and it no longer seems as important. In the fictitious “Aunt Jo” example, time has passed, mourning is done, and there’s not usually a reason to remember that we never had that conversation we meant to.
Reason 5 – We remember good things better than bad.
I’m a firm believer that it’s important to give feedback immediately, especially when it’s about something bad that happened. I also believe that over time, we remember the good moments in our lives better than those that aren’t as positive. That’s why when you think about the music that was on the radio when you were in high school, all sorts of wonderful tunes pop into your head, but when they actually play the top 40 from that same year, you hear some things that make you smile and wonder why they were popular.
This is probably another survival trait: I know for me, I can remember what to avoid, but the memories for what a burn feels like, or how much it hurts to skin my knee, is not nearly as vivid as what it feels like to hug my wife, or have that wonderful feeling of contentment after a holiday meal.
So if communication about something bad gets delayed long enough, it’s human nature not to bother with it. Not only do we want to avoid dredging up things that aren’t fun, but the value of doing so has diminished, and so we just choose to forget (and maybe can’t remember).
So my solution for the Mom Communication Event ?
It’s really the same goal with every bit of communication, test that the message you sent was the one received. I used to wonder why people used to say “Did I tell you about …”, but now I know why, they were just being human, AND being good communicators, just like my Mom.