Friday, March 28, 2014

Communication Defined: a beginning

 This is not an easy definition. It appears to be an easy definition and that is one of the biggest problems we have to face. Outstanding minds have wrestled with this problem for years. This is what George Bernard Shaw had to say about it.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

There is some sort of expectation involved in the communication process. "I said it and I expected them to . . ." and here you can fill in your own thought. When you ask for something concrete like, "Please pass the salt," and you get the salt you have evidence that something took place: communication. What about areas that are distant or more abstract and what you expected doesn't happen. Then the assumption is that communication didn't occur.

Shaw's observation is very evident every day in most of our lives. We assume that what we have said is understood in the way we intended and that certain specific result will occur. When things don’t turn out the way we expected them to, we assume that there has been a failure to communicate.

If you have power and authority and you "know you are perfectly clear" in your communication then you risk the assumption that communication has taken place. That can lead to fights, hurt feelings, war, and lots of negative things. Be cautious about assumptions and don't allow illusions to mess up your life.
Unfortunately, communication occurs.  In fact, we cannot not communicate.  We communicate all the time.  Our communication is evaluated all the time.  It is not possible to avoid communicating and there is a reaction . . .even if we are unaware of it.  What we would really like is that when we attempt communication, we always get the intended result. 
If we define communication as “the perfect reproduction of your idea in another mind,” that is impossible. Everything about us was created by the sum of all our heredity and environment and since those vary from person to person, not even the words we use will have identical meanings.

This presents us with a difficult task. Since our experiences and language do not completely overlap, even in the closest of relationships, we need to take special precautions during our communication attempts. Put another way: say it over and over again using different words and actions. After a period of time they will begin to understand what you mean when you say, "I love you."

On the other side, if you really want to hear "I love you" from that special person your temptation will be to apply your meaning of those words to what they have said. Take it easy and slow down. Determine over time what the word love means to them. If we would take the time to experience how the other person means in general, we would have a much better idea of what they are actually saying.

This puts "whirlwind" relationships of all kinds in to a safe perspective. Move, but move with caution and many words and actions. That way you will have a better idea of who they are and they will have a better idea of who you are.
In their book, Communication: Principles for a lifetime, Beebe, Beebe and Ivy provided a workable definition for communication. “ . . .communication is the process of acting on information." You know something and you share it with someone. They hear what you say and they act on it in some way. Those of us who are effective think about our communications so that we can achieve our goals.

With such a broad definition you have to believe that the whole subject of communication must be very broad indeed. It is. Everything that you do and much of what you choose not to do is used by others determine something about who you are and what you stand for. We often try to deny that we can be so easily read, but the fact is that we read others just as well and move in their direction if what we see is congenial. So we say that communication is inescapable. In addition, it is irreversible. Once the idea is planted in another mind, there is nothing short of trauma that can remove it. That's why our mothers told us to always "put your best foot forward."

When you combine several elements of communication together, such as email, phone calls, observed actions, the impact of the communication becomes very complicated. Our communication, intended or not, takes on a life of its own and we are largely powerless to amend it. It is irreversible.

Communication should take up a very large portion of our energy everyday. It is the basic tool with which we build our lives and professions. Done carefully it will greatly aid us in achieving our goals. Done poorly, we will find ourselves saying things like, "I don't know what she sees in him? I'm at least as capable as he is."
Communication is the creation of an idea that is in your mind, in the mind(s) of others. This definition is one that we will follow.  It is general and so is communication.  It implies process and so does communication.  It implies intent and so does communication. It implies context and so does communication. 
General: anything and everything that can be used to communicate impacts the effectiveness of the message. One of the most important is time and its impact on the message.
  Process: you bring your current position in life to the message and so does the recipient.  These positions are constantly shifting and changing which impacts the message.
Intent: is likely to be persuasive.  I want you to like me, trust me, travel with me, live with me, etc.  Unbiased information for its own sake is extremely difficult. This is one of many limitations human beings have.
Context: you were conceived, born, raised in a family, in a community, during specific time periods and those all differ from other person’s backgrounds. This impacts culture, language, experiences and life in general. 
Communication merits much of our attention all our lives.  It should not be relegated to some little visited area of our mind unless we are forced to give a speech or introduce someone.
 (Much of the content of this blog appeared in September of 2010.)

Some Basic Assumptions

(This first appeared in September, 2013 )

None of us asked to be alive.  We didn’t order the body we live in, we didn’t order the brain we live with, we didn’t request the sex we are, we didn’t request the parents we have . . .in fact we simply became aware of our existence.  When born we are basically a brain and little else.  When we are old we find ourselves in the same position.  We are mostly brain and when very young or old, there is less that we can physically accomplish. It should be noted that our senses and bodies allow our brain to increase its understanding of things around us.  That makes our bodies an extension of the brain.
In between, human beings tend to become distracted from the care and training of their brain into other less important areas that are basically short lived. When we are born we spend a great deal of our lives learning language and understanding communication.  We are not overly concerned about running a marathon or how physically attractive we are.  It’s just the joy of being alive and being with those whose language we speak, that is central to us.  We come full circle: when we are old we are not overly concerned about running a marathon or how physically attractive we are.  It’s again the joy of being alive and with those whose language we speak that is central to us.
In between, we often become confused about what is important and why. We feel an obligation to fulfill the expectations of others in a huge array of areas that have little or nothing to do with the joy we once felt.  In most cases, our successes following the wishes of others are fleeting and we are frustrated. 
Our best asset is our brain.  Our brain works most of the time well enough to allow us to keep up with those around us.  Some seem to have quicker wits and others slower.  But, when we work to improve the brain we have, we often find that things go better for us in general. 
One big problem we all have is to effectively communicate with others.  That is the biggest single reason we need to spend as much time and energy improving our brain and its ability to communicate.  The reason is simple: most things that we accomplish in life are through the cooperation of groups of people. 
We are built brick by brick, moment to moment, by communication.  We see what others do and say and we adopt it. They are an integral part of our growth and development.  If others are building us and we are in turn building others, communication should become one of the most important areas of concentration we have. It should be clear that we are building our future as well as those around us.  A sense of community is basic to our success.