Communication Breakdown, as Bad for Cooking Videos as Politics

Jan 23 , 2021
By Kidist Yidnekachew

It is not a new term. It is actually a quite common one, especially to those who have the experience of job hunting. Every "We are hiring" notice comes with “good communication and interpersonal skills.” Indeed, such skills are not easy to come by. They require practice and patience. It is understandable to see why they need them.

Communication has two elements. One is speaking and expressing ourselves lucidly. The other is listening and comprehending what our conversational counterpart is communicating. The latter does not mean waiting for the speaker to finish talking and responding immediately. An effective form of communication requires listening to understand, empathise and be open to change one’s mind.

Considering behaviours on social media today, it is obvious why companies insist on such skills. Communication on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is too confrontational and does not lend itself to teamwork. If this is how people behave when they are given the freedom, then it is unlikely that firms want to hire.

But my recent experiences pertain to comments on instructional videos. I like handicrafts, and there are a great deal of these videos on YouTube. With the time for reflection the COVID-19 pandemic has afforded most of us, I have even gotten into cooking videos.

A lot of these channels are Ethiopian, and the comment section actually helps develop some of the ideas and methods shown in the instructional videos. It helps find answers to what has already not been addressed.

Instead, what I often come across are comments that are redundant. Some people just do not get it. Whoever it is that posted the video would reply to them, repeating part of what they have already explained in the content. Sometimes, even this does not help the misunderstanding. Some go on to duplicate. Others are liberal with their outbursts.

It is dumbfounding how a conversation can turn out this way. I have often just brushed this off as poor understanding of the platform until I noticed that we do it in person.

I have noticed we have a habit of cutting someone short in the midst of explaining something or answering a question. Even though the three sentences they said before they were interrupted did not seem like the answer we expected, it does not mean the person who asked the question should stop listening and interrupt the speaker. This kills the conversation and frustrates the speaker. This is Communication 101.

This shows our lack of patience. Had we listened for another minute we would have found our answer, but because we have a short attention span, listening to someone talk for more than five minutes seems like a waste of time. Of course, there are times where the questions asked and the answers given are completely different. A combination of these stunts communication.

Can a society survive on one-way dialogue?

I seriously doubt that we will have the capacity to fix many of the current and future problems we face if we cannot listen. I have witnessed this in real-time.

Recently, on Al Jazeera, a panel of stakeholders representing ideas on different sides of the aisle discussed Ethiopian politics. Did they reach consensus or get one another to at least empathise with each other’s views?

Not at all. They were not letting each other express a view before interrupting and wanting to respond to the current sentence. They had come with the desire to be the loudest. No one was interested in listening.

Why are we like this?

Human nature surely has something to do with it. But there is also the lack of awareness that, as long as this is the case, it is impossible for us to get along. Awareness of this, hopefully, should bring down the heat.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 23,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1082]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (

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