Emotional Labour and The Art of Communication

I have been told a couple of times recently that I used to be a good communicator and that I am not anymore.

What they meant by this is that I used to check up on people, ask how they are and whatnot, listen, offer advice and now I do not.

If we are being honest, that isn’t what being a good communicator is. We all know that. It’s not that I had a problem with it or had some realisation that people were taking advantage of me. Far from that. I have retreated from life. That’s all.

I was listening to the podcast Stuff mom never told you episode on emotional labour and thinking to myself how hard it is to realise when you are performing this labour for people. And sometimes I think what we deem emotional labour isn’t really emotional labour (in the same way the meaning of self care has completely been lost). The concept of Emotional Labour was introduced by Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist, in 1983 to refer to “the process by which workers are expected to manage their feelings in accordance with organizationally defined rules and guidelines.” With time, many have broadened the term to include everyday relationships – romantic, platonic etc.

I must state that this post isn’t meant to dictate what emotional labour IS, rather it uses the concept to talk about communication and me.

I am the person who speaks loudly about working on friendships, relationships and the importance of reciprocity and I have come to realise that this thing isn’t easy.

Communication fascinates me in the sense that if I was into research I would do something on communication. How do people learn how to communicate? How do you improve your communication? Why do you communicate the way you do?

I am not the easiest person to help. I admit that how I communicate isn’t optimal. “How are you doing?” is most often responded to with “fine” and absolutely no desire to discuss further. Even those I tell that I am not OK, I usually find it extremely difficult to go into detail on what the issues are. It might be the virgo I am (LOL), the fact that I cry easily, that I prefer to dissect matters inwardly – I don’t know – but it is pretty hard for me to tell people what’s going on much less my feelings about situations. Much simpler to say “I’m going through the most.” Lately, I have been wondering if it is how I was socialised, my family isn’t one big on discussing feelings. I know this and I know about unlearning what you have been socialised. But still.

Sometimes I think about how the “I’m here if you need me” sounds nice and people do it and feel good about it. But really, what does it matter if a person is unable to go to their people when needed? Because of something in their personality? What does that mean for them when it comes to reciprocity? To emotional labour (which while appreciated cannot be reciprocated)?

(I also feel sometimes people want to say they won’t do emotional labour as a cop out because they can’t be bothered about their friends but that is a thought I haven’t examined completely and would rather not delve into it).

Communication is so much more than what we I think. And maybe sometimes, emotional labour really isn’t emotional labour.

Finally, thank you to my family and friends. You are appreciated.


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