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Kursh, C.O. (1971). The Benefits of Poor communication. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(2):189-208.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(2):189-208

The Benefits of Poor communication

Charlotte Olmsted Kursh, Ph.D.

In this day and age one of the most popular forms of piety has to do with communication, somewhat narrowly defined. An ailment called “lack of communication” has taken the place of original sin as an explanation for the ills of the world, while “better communication” is trotted out on every occasion as a universal panacea. It is guaranteed to appear at least once, and usually several times, on any tv panel discussion. Usually it is offered with the mock modest air of one who is making a substantial contribution which is bound to be well received, while the correct response is solemn nods all around, strongly reminiscent of the amens in church. Indeed, ritualization of the whole sequence is far advanced.

Yet some of the basic assumptions underlying these popular views deserve more examination than they have had. One is the way in which poor communication resembles original sin: both tend to get tangled up with control of the situation. Although if one defines communication as mutual understanding, this does not imply control for either party and certainly not for both, the equation of good communication with control appears in the assumption that better communication will necessarily reduce strife and conflict. Each individual's definition of better communication, like his definition of virtuous conduct, becomes that of having the other party accept his views—which would reduce conflict at that party's expense. As long as both feel this way the struggle can continue indefinitely, but strictly speaking has very little to do with communication difficulties per se. A better understanding of the situation might serve only to underline the differences rather than to resolve them. Indeed many of the techniques thought of as poor communication were apparently developed with the aim of bypassing or avoiding confrontation, and some of them continue to be reasonably successful in this aim.

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