Have you ever gotten a “Dear John” type of letter? The reason I ask is because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about communications and the kind of impact it has on our lives. The media is a whole other conversation (don’t get me started), so I’m going to talk about us as individuals. People use various mediums to communicate—e-mail, postal mail, phone calls, Facebook, face-to-face, notes passed in class, as well as other people (lawyers and our friends in sixth grade come to mind). Some people like to talk a lot, others deal with conflicts straight-out, and others…many of us I’m afraid, don’t communicate well at all. And I don’t mean you have to be a great orator or writer, but there are skills you can use, develop, and hone to strengthen your relationships with people.

Over the years I’ve become a better communicator mostly by learning from others. Not just the excellent writers and editors I’ve had the privilege to work with, but also friends, supervisors, and family. I’m not perfect at this but I’ve learned how much better it is to deal with conflicts instead of ignoring them.

While up in Michigan, I observed my family in action. My aunt Sandy was telling me stories of her childhood and how in her family, you always knew where you stood. My cousins (Sandy’s sons) on the other hand sometimes deal with conflict head-on but are often passive aggressive—I think they do it on purpose to annoy their mom. For example, one day my cousin John called his mom, Sandy, to let her know that her car that was back in Detroit wouldn’t start. (We’ll skip over the expletives that went on over how he knew that.) She then called her other son, Michael, to ask him to take the car in to the shop for her. He hemmed and hawed and she told him that she would pay for it; he just needed to send the bill to her. In typical Andrews smart-alec fashion he then asked, “Do you have a stamp?” More expletives. When the letter came two days later Michael wrote “Dufus” on the return address. Boy it’s fun watching other families communicate.

And while taking a little “booze cruise” with the neighbors, I had to laugh at all the old stories. Here we were, several generations of families that have been neighbors (and on and off again friends) for the past 70 odd years. Some of the stories were about how our grandparents and other neighbors fought—cutting off access to each other’s houses just because they felt like it, not talking to each other until someone had a heart attack, pinning a list of “why you’re going to hell” on someone’s door, and last but not least, going to court. But there were also stories of friends helping each other. Like the one when Nancy helped George pull his car out of the woods at two in the morning—no questions asked, or how Marilyn befriended a lonely new bride, Sandy, or how Scott and Marc took us on a nice boat cruise to watch the sunset. It makes me think how great it is that I have nice neighbors here in VA. It makes life so much nicer.

And in an awkward segue, another reason I was thinking about communication is because on my walks I kept seeing funny mailboxes. We spend so much time e-mailing and texting people now that the postal mail is going out of style. Personally, I love sending and receiving letters and cards. And I love when people put an emphasis on their postal mail. We can’t lose out on the personal nature of cards and how much they can lift the spirits of our loved ones.

Up in the Walloon Lake area the houses are so off the beaten track that each family has put up a little sign on a tree so the mail carrier would know how to find their house. And the mail carrier lady that worked that route was so nice; she threw out biscuits to Grendel and some of the dogs as she delivered those precious packages. Communication can happen in lots of ways both good and bad. And how we communicate can make a huge difference in our lives.

So keep talking people. In the end, it’s our relationships that matter. (And funny mailboxes.)