Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Not because they are sublime basketball players which they most certainly are. Rather, I’ve been thinking about what they are not. They are not successful communicators.
Durant and Westbrook were teammates for eight years on the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. They appeared to be close. They did post-game interviews together. They called each other brother.
But in the summer of 2016, on Independence Day, Durant rattled the basketball world. He left the Thunder and signed with the Golden State Warriors. This was momentous because it left Oklahoma City without one of its stars and enriched Golden State with yet another MVP caliber player. But what was more extraordinary to me was the way in which Durant notified Westbrook of his decision: he sent him a text.
What’s happened since has played out very publicly. Westbrook was blindsided by what Durant did, no doubt because he left their team, but surely because of how Durant told him. I’ve repeatedly asked myself how Durant could have notified Westbrook about this consequential decision by text. I’m wondering why he didn’t call him and make a plan to tell him in person.
And ever since, the controversy has raged. The two men have not talked. Westbrook, a fiery athlete, ignores questions about the matter and talks about fashion instead; Durant, a quieter man, acts as if he is unfazed by the whole thing. Recently, the two teams met for a game in Oklahoma City. Durant, who had been treated like a hero before, was now booed and cursed by the fans. On court, the only apparent contact between the two was a bump and a sneer.
And the thing is, this whole ugly mess could have been avoided had Durant just picked up the phone or knocked on Westbrook’s door instead of sending that text. It can be difficult to tell a friend bad news. The teller may be understandably fearful of the friend’s reaction. But communicating such news in an impersonal, ill-considered way, often results in hurt feelings and lost friendships.
With A Perspective, I’m Adele Grunberg.
Adele Grunberg is a mediator who specializes in resolving conflict through effective communication.