Sunday, September 30, 2007

Communication: Making Sense

All of our senses gather data all of the time. Our brain is dealing with sensations all the time. Clearly, one of our biggest tasks is to train our brain about what to do with this huge amount of information that is pouring in. That is probably one of the most important tasks facing educational systems. How can individuals best sense, sort and store the data that they’re going to need to make decisions about what to say and do.

Once we think that we have a concept properly ordered in our minds we are ready to make an attempt to communicate what we are thinking. We think that we have made sense out some of the information and now we want to share that sense with someone else. Since the words vary in meaning in each of us, it is difficult to “say” what you are thinking. That is one of the reasons that shared experiences are so valuable in aiding communication.

An example: grown men crying are able to talk about their experiences during World War II with their families after they have all attending Saving Private Ryan, a film released in 1998. Before the movie, most of these mean didn’t talk about their experiences on the Normandy invasion. They had tried to talk to people who weren’t there during the invasion and realized that for them to even begin to understand what they went through (their definition of the Normandy invasion) the people they were talking to could not understand what they were saying. The net affect was that they clammed up. In many cases they couldn’t be persuaded to talk about the Normandy. A case of, “You had to be there.”

Remember, our brains are gathering information all the time. People aren’t talking all the time. That means that we can divide the communication world into two parts: verbal and nonverbal. We will spend most of our time talking about the verbal and much more time should be spent on nonverbal. Perhaps you’ve already heard the Steely Dan song, What I Do. It underscores from the musical philosophical point of view that what we do is extremely important.

In any case, communication remains a very complicated process and it is extremely important to us as individuals as well as groups.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Human Communication

According to Beebe, Beebe and Ivy, “. . . human communication is the process of making sense out of the world and sharing that sense with others by creating meaning through the use of verbal and nonverbal messages.” This is one of many definitions for human communication. Consider that we almost always have problems with definitions. Take Christianity for example: many in the United States point to the Bible as the core document in their beliefs, but somehow they have come up with different definitions for their religions. We have to assume that if anyone were attempting to build the best possible definition it would be the founders of these denominations.

In discussions we do exactly the same thing. We can establish a basic definition from which our contributions to any discussion are drawn. Put another way, we decide what we think and then discuss from that position. In daily life application, probably all of us have had this experience. Mom asks us to clean our rooms. You set out to clean the room and in five minutes are finished. Mom comes by the room and says, “When are you going to clean your room?” Clearly there are different definitions of “clean” in those two minds.

Unfortunately, since we are all different and have had different experiences, we will always find that the starting point or definition in our mind is different from the starting point in the mind of others. For that reason, the definition above will be the one that should be used in discussions with classmates during the quarter. The definition is one of many possible definitions and should not be considered the best or only.

One last thought, words, like everything else, have to be defined by experience, real or vicarious. Each of us have had different experiences and that means that the words in our head don’t mean the same thing to everyone. They don’t even mean the same things to us over the years.

Communication is tough. To be successful each of us must spend a great deal of energy and time examining the communication process.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Human Communication

You and I tend to think that ideas clear and obvious in our heads will be every bit as clear and obvious to everyone around us. If we can understand it, they should be able to understand it as well. On the other hand, as we gain more experience we begin to discover that things we used to “clearly” understand just aren’t the way we thought they were and we are forced to change our thinking or ignore the problem.

When I was a kid, folk talked about the back country of the high Sierras in California. When I visited the high Sierras I was impressed. Nobody bothered to explain to me that the Sierras were a range of mountains and there was another side. (I knew there was an east side, but I just thought it was a very long way away.) It came as something of a shock to me to discover that the back country was much smaller than it seemed in my imagination. The experience of actually crossing the Sierras and seeing the other side forced me to change my thinking.

My home town of Mountain View, California, seemed to be quite nice and quite large as I was growing up. I didn’t have a lot of travel opportunities and so hadn’t visited a lot of places. When I went back recently to visit my old home town I was amazed at how small and average it had become. (It’s is still my home town and I have many fond memories from there.) Then it dawned on me that the “reality” in my mind was just plain different from the “reality” that I have now. Oh yes, and Mountain View has changed as much as I have.

It’s clear to me that the things that are “real” in my head are not always what I find them to be later on. That forces me to make changes in the way I think about things and what I say. Put another way, the “reality” that we are constructing in our minds is necessary, but not necessarily accurate. What is necessary to live a longer and more prosperous life is the acceptance of the fact that we all have partial grasp of “reality” and we are forced to accept that, until we can revise and update it.

And that has a huge impact on human communication.

I’m certain that you have discovered things in your “reality” that seem to have shifted. How fast can these shifts occur? Are there thought processes that might be useful in detecting these shifts before they embarrass us?