Sunday, April 12, 2009

Communication Skills Elements

When speakers/communicators are being considered there are at least two skills that are of concern: writing and speaking. Although those aren't the only methods to communicate they are two of the most common. Those have to do with our abilities to encode messages into some form for transmission. If we are thinking of audiences in traditional terms then there are two additional skills that involve decoding. We decode by reading and listening. These ideas are clearly discussed by David Berlo in his book, The Process of Communication.

Before successful communication takes place we experience thought or reasoning. This step is necessary for both the writer/speaker and the reader/listener. These elements deserve our thought and attention if we hope to be able to communicate what we intend to and be understood by any audience.

It makes sense then, that we constantly improve our writing and speaking abilities and that we spend considerable time and focus on the reasoning we use and expect the listener to be able to follow. If this were an easy process, then nearly everyone would be successful communicators.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Keep This In Mind

If we mean by the term communication the perfect reproduction of a thought in our mind in another mind, then communication is impossible.

Why? Some simple but important reasons. We are all different, have had different experiences, lived in different places and that makes the elements of messages, such as words and gestures, different from other minds. The differences make it impossible to say anything and have that idea perfectly reflected in another mind.

Communication is tough and deserves our full and continuous attention.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Source Fidelity Challenges

When you are attempting to communicate you are faced with a number of challenges, which you can minimize. According to David Berlo there are at least four (4) considerations.

The following describes factors that are within the source of the communication which can be used to increase the fidelity of the communication and are discussed in The Process of Communicaiton:
"1) communication skills,
2) attitudes,
3) knowldege base and
4) position within a social-cultural system."

Communication skills--the more we know about and have at our disposal various skills the more likely that we will be successful in communicating. That includes a wide range of things such as the correct use of language: vocabulary and structure, control over the channel(s) being used to communicate, and familiarity with the audience.

Most of those skills teachers have tried to help us improve over the years. They have to this point had an impact, but have not necessarily achieved perfection. That is something we will have to work on as long as we are alive. That may come as bad news to any of us who have been looking forward to being finished with our education. The only thing that will finish our education will be death. First professional teachers attempt to teach us then we are expected to take over the task ourselves.

Attitudes--long before we could make any judgments about the usefulness of the concepts we were being taught, out brains were acquiring data which we had no reason to mistrust. Some of it was wrong and some just plain wrong headed. Now when we become aware of the basic body of knowledge and the possibility that it may have some flaws our task becomes the retraining of our brains and that will also take the rest of our lives.

Attitudes affect everything we do or say. They aid us in deciding who to talk to and who not to talk to as well as what should be said and what might be better left unsaid. Attitudes like our first instruction in language is likely to be at variance with our current beliefs and require our attention and alteration to fit what we currently believe. That is not likely to be easy.

Knowledge base--the things we learn, the contexts of our learning and the use to which we have put that learning all work together to build a professional knowledge base. The social and spiritual knowledge base will come through experience as well. Keep in mind that the careful choice of friends and associates will aid you greatly in forming successful and meaningful knowledge bases.

Formal education, classes taught in schools, can be very helpful. But, informal education is also very useful and should be planned out just as carefully over the course of a well planned life.

Position within a social-cultural system--this has an inordinate control over the breadth and types of experiences that will be readily available to you. If you appear to be a "safe" person to include within a particular social-cultural system you will be allowed to participate and learn. If on the other hand, you are not allowed to actively participate you will have to find a way around the barriers you have discovered. For example, women in the business world have found it difficult to be allowed to enter the spaces where critical education takes place which might allow them to rise with the business world.

First thing to notice is that you can increase your control over your communications and that it will most definitely affect your control over your own environment. It is not simply "be nice, and everything will be provided to you."

Friday, April 03, 2009


Aristotle said that there are three (3) ingredients in communication:
1) speaker,
2) speech and
3) listener.

Correct or not, these are useful concepts. First, look at the speaker. The following questions should help us understand what we do and then help us to use them in our attempts at communication.

1) Who are you? We should have a constantly improving idea of who we are and what we can do. That self-concept will never be fully accurate, but like our lives is a work in progress. The answer to that question emerges the widest possible range of influences. The answer includes such things as where, when and how we were born. It also looks at our cumulative lives and everything that happened to us along the way . . . our experiences. This awareness is extremely important to our futures. One of the best possible reasons for choosing our friends carefully and then maintaining those friends, because it is through them that we gain wisdom about who we are.

They won't know who we are unless someone tells them. That impacts anything and everything you say and do. In a speech for example, you must answer the question almost never asked out loud: "Why should I listen to what you have to say?" Find a way to give the folk listening the answer to that question.

2) Who do they think you are? You can add to their knowledge base by telling them directly and indirectly who you are. The kinds of experiences have you had, when and where. How you know what you know and how you learned it. In a small community many of the folk you are talking to will have "a fairly good idea" of who you are because of previous knowledge and experiences with you and folk who know you.

Now, take a look at the audience.

3) Who are they? The more you know about those to whom you are speaking the more likely you can influence what and how they think. Extremely important in this situation is information needed by the listener which they can use to allow themselves to listen and learn without being embarrassed later. After trusting themselves to listen and they have learned things they value from you, they can use the knowledge with others who will recognize the value and importance of what they have learned through listening. In other words, the listener not caught being gullible by folk they talk to because the information they have learned appears to be accurate and useful. In short, the speaker appears to them to be a trustworthy, intelligent person with specific knowledge than can be safely used. Aristotle referred this experience as ethos, or what you appear to others to be.

4) Who do they think they are? Be aware that individuals believe themselves to be bright and capable and have enough self-respect to distinguish useful from non-useful information. They "live in a free country" and have every right to think about what happened last night or what they are going to be doing later. They believe they have a right to use what you say to appear to be brighter and better informed than they really are. They believe that they are important. Treat them with respect.

Now look at the speech. A speech is information couched in terms that are easily understood and recalled by the listener. It represents the best of what you have experienced, know and recently learned about the topic. The topic is often determined by those who have requested that you address them. That is useful. Under these circumstance there is every indication that your ethos, who you appear to be, is already positive. If you speak to them using language that they are familiar with and understand, then they can listen and recall later what you have said. Your task is to make the topic easy to recall, therefore use.

Clearly then, you must know who you are addressing. Demographic data, such as age, sex, socio-economic status, etc. are useful. If you can add information which overlaps a bulk of the audience because of common knowledge and experiences, you will have bridged much of the gap.

Jumbled information isn't easy to understand or retain. Put your information into a package that seems to belong in that form. This will be a great aid to those listening and later when they are attempting to recall. In other words, organize the information in a form which fits the audience.

The listener--those who have come to hear what you have to say. Make it easy for them to feel like they are part of an enlarged conversation. Use the tone, words and phrases that a conversation would use. Watch the individuals while you are talking to them. From the look on their faces can they hear and understand you. If you are not looking at them they can't give you that information. They don't really care if you make a mistake. Fix it and move on. Don't make a federal case out of it, that certainly isn't what they want.

The more ways they can experience what you are saying the more easily it is understood and retained. Use audio-visual aids whenever possible.

If all of us were to review these ideas before we begin the process of speech preparation we would be nervous, but not dangerously fearful. Our audience would be at ease and open to ideas that they can use. Ideas and actions that are important would receive proper consideration.