Communication Lessons from The Brady Bunch

Yesterday, I watched an episode of the Brady Bunch where Peter (the middle boy) saves a young girl from a collapsing shelf in a toy store. Now what wisdom could I have possibly found from that? Well, I noticed how interpersonal communication has changed drastically since the 1970’s.

Consider this:

  1. Alice, the maid (not “au pair”) that lives with the family refers to Mike and Carol as “Mr. & Mrs. Brady”.
  2. Mike, an experienced architect and father of six, calls his boss “Mr. Phillips.”
  3. Not only do the kids, but the parents and Alice address almost every adult they come into contact with (excluding relatives) formally (ex: Mr. Driscoll).

Our society has certainly become less formal with some of our communication. I rarely address people as Mr. or Mrs. (the most notable exception are my friends’ parents). Many people take it further and automatically shorten people’s first names (ex: Dave for David, Jon for Jonathan) – often to the dismay of the person they’re addressing. It’s amazing how many people call me “Jim” even though I introduce myself as “James” so I have to politely correct them. To some, shorting their name is like scraping your nails down a chalk board.

So Brady Lesson #1: make sure you address people correctly. If you don’t know how they’d like to be addressed, then ask.

The other interesting part of that episode was when a deliveryman showed up to deliver toys and Alice answered the door. In the episode, Alice is in her late-40’s and is not married. The deliveryman is about her age and refers to her as “gorgeous” and “cutie” – Alice even makes the remark “if you call me names like that, I’ll follow you anywhere.”

Again, times have changed – but in a different way. Can you imagine the reaction that deliveryman would get today? He could be called chauvinistic, sexist or possibly charged with sexual harassment. Granted, if you have good rapport skills and use a little finesse, you can get away with that type of behavior (and even yield positive results). But, surprisingly, we’ve also become more formal with some of our communication.

Brady lesson #2: Sexual harassment is in the eye of the beholder and flirting doesn’t always equal flattery.

Communication is always evolving and we need to keep up with the times.  Telling a waitress that she’s “a good looking broad” may have worked for Frank Sinatra, but will not go over well today. If you’re new neighbor, Jonathan Smith who is in his early 30’s, introduces himself to you and you refer to him as “Mr. Smith,” you may get an odd look from him. So what appears effective in movies and television from over 20 years ago, may not necessarily work today. This can also be true for books and articles on communication. So be aware of social norms.

Some alternatives: try telling the waitress that she has a friendly smile or ask you neighbor if he prefers “Jon” or Jonathan.

Brady lesson #3: Tomorrow, many acceptable behaviors from today may be considered inappropriate.

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3 thoughts on “Communication Lessons from The Brady Bunch

  1. Donnie Ray

    Along the same lines, I bought the classic Sesame Street DVDs from the 1970’s so i could enjoy the episodes I grew up with, with my kids. The first thing they say before the first episode is “this program may not be appropriate for today’s preschooler.”

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