Brain Dump


. . .A Failure to Communicate.

by on May.01, 2012, under Communication, Ruminations and Ponderings

There is an extremely short list of things in life that do not depend on good communication skills, yet this seems to be a major area of weakness in much of the general populous today. By no means do I think I have this wired, in fact the majority of what is being done on this site is an effort to improve myself in this area.

In any event, like anything else that needs to be improved, we first need to recognize a need for improvement, then determine where to start, and what  we can do. In many cases, it might not be a big change, but minor things that make a big difference.

Imagine having a conversation with someone where you miss one word in each sentence, and in the age of cell phones, this isn’t hard to imagine. I believe, through my own experience, that this is one of the biggest areas of miscommunication. This can be for one of two reasons. The first reason can be that we think the other person knows an important detail already and therefore we see no need to tell them what they already know. The other reason is that we believe that we have already communicated the point which leads to the first scenario. It’s just like the combination to a lock. If you have all but one number, the lock isn’t going to open.

Many miscommunications I’ve seen are due to one small detail being left out. An example of that was someone who was making macaroni and cheese for the first time. They read the directions on the back of the box and got 99% of the directions spot on, they just missed one detail, just one word, the word “drain”. As you can imagine, it didn’t turn out as intended. Now lets say that it takes 200 words to explain this process and you get 199 words perfect but miss this one word, the end result is much different than the directions intend.

There are times that things are left out because we might feel we are insulting the intelligence of the hearer, perhaps this may be due to past experience with a particular audience. If I’m getting ready to jump out of a plane, and you know the ring I’m supposed to pull, the difference between the main shoot, the reserve and the cut away, I would much rather you insult my intelligence than let me jump with an ego that gets me killed. Naturally the gravity of the situation can determine the importance of this.

This leads to another problem often encountered which is just the ego issue. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen or tried to explain something to someone where they were so intent in convincing me that they knew what I was trying to tell them, that they didn’t hear a thing I said and left just as ignorant as they came.

Another common problem is that the hearer assumes they know what your going to say, or what they want you to say, and no matter what you say, they hear a preconceived thought process, and not what is actually said. Our minds are very powerful in this way and can convince us that things are very different from what they really are.

Another common problem is the use of the wrong terminology. Over the years I’ve seen many people transpose words like “then” and “than”, “brought” and “bought”. Context can usually sift this out. I wish I could think of more examples right now, but I’m drawing a blank.

Ambiguity is also a big culprit, once again, this is due to the transmitter of the message, assuming that the receiver knows the rest of the thought process. Many TV and movie scripts have been written based on this and the entertainment of watching both sides of the equation. A classic example of this is the old Abbot and Costello “Who’s on first”, and countless others by which we have been entertained. As entertaining as they are, they are undeniably based on real life situations that we can easily find ourselves in.

Communication is nothing more than a transfer of information. Like a radio, there is a transmitter and a receiver and they both have to share the same frequency and this is another problem with communication. Myers Briggs puts everyone in different categories based on personality and how we respond to the world around us. Some communicate more through feeling, some through sound and some through sight and so on. With this in mind, it is good to know how your audience communicates and one on one this is done by attention to their use of words and what area their vocabulary favors. Do they “feel”, did they “hear” or do they “see”? Now when speaking to a group or crowd, you have to assume that all are represented so there is a need to try and “transmit” in all frequencies so all “receivers” get the signal.

There are many different means of communication. Smoke signals, Morris code, and sign language are just a few besides the familiar oral and written forms. There are other subtle means that are being recognized a little more now days.

We all have neurological reactions to everything and our brain manifests this in physical ways by triggering different parts of our bodies to respond. Without going into this in detail, there are many things that we see every day that tells us how someone is feeling about something. When someone blushes, it is obvious that they are feeling embarrassed about something. There are other  things that we do as involuntary responses such as pacifying behavior. This, in many cases can be different for men than it is for women, but involuntary and often unnoticed. We also display “freeze, fight or flight” responses triggered by our amygdala, the almond shaped part of our brain that processes fear. This communicates our emotional reaction to our environment.

The only reason this is becoming important is that people no longer communicate like they should, making it necessary to use other means of supporting what it is they’re trying to say, or in some cases, trying not to say.

One other communication problem is completely different in that it provides too much information and as a result, the main points become buried under all the other unnecessary stuff. I’ve told people before that a conversation is like climbing a tree. You use the base of each branch to pull you to the next, but there isn’t any need to go out to the end of each branch in the process.

This leaves us with the fine line of transferring enough, but not too much causing the main points to get buried or missed.

When giving instruction to kids, it’s helpful to make them repeat it back to you. This will help them pay attention as well as making sure you are communicating properly too. If what they repeat is not what you thought you said, then something went wrong on one end or the other.

Another way, as the receiver, is to repeat back what you received in one form or another, and hopefully get confirmation that all was understood well.

Going back to the line from “Cool hand Luke”, “What we have here, is a failure to communicate” and this is where many of the problems start. As we go forward, we can try not to assume what is being said but listen for what is being said and hear what is being communicated using more than just the audible channels.

Can you hear me now?




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