In this week’s spotlight I would like to address the subject of communication. It seems that it is more and more difficult to communicate with others today. Often this is due to emotionally charged positions that are all together too easy to affront. It seems that folks often symbolize ideas in ways that lead to further communication issues. That is, all sorts of mental images are wrapped up with certain constructs such as those found in politics. Take for example the word/symbol Republican and for some there is a sometimes hateful resentment that arises while for others a warm fuzzy feeling. The problem here is that instead of examining issues, one by one in isolation for their merit, people will dig in either in support or opposition just because of what this word/symbol represents to them. The same can be true with all forms of communication in conversations as diverse as relationships to health and wellness.
Think for a minute about what the word/symbol vegan means to you. For some this expresses weak-minded folks who are the self-appointed social workers for animal rights. They are definitely not the world-class boxers, weight lifters, endurance runners, and so forth. After all, doesn’t everyone know that it’s meat, milk, eggs, and cheese that are the real protein builders, and don’t we all need protein? Now the facts are quite different from the symbol that elicits this definition. There are indeed world-class athletes who are vegans.
Framing is often a problem in communication. One of my favorite examples of the power of framing exists in the Susan Boyle story. Susan appeared on Britain’s Got Talent in a circa ‘50’s housedress and somewhat overweight. The audience saw her and began to laugh, jeer, etc. The judges looked at one another rolling eyes and expressing dismay for the obvious failure at prescreening the talent. However, when she opened her mouth and began to sing everyone became silent in astonishment, for the most mellifluous of sounds emitted from this unlikely looking singer—but that’s exactly the point. What makes us think a singer is suppose to look a certain way?
Word/symbols often frame a context and communication can be blinded by the difference people assign to their symbols. Two people can agree on a word/symbol such as democracy only to discover that they really disagree when the meaning of the term is more clearly broken down and defined.
We also have styles of information processing. Some of us are inferential while others are literal and direct. As such, an inferential can hear a compliment like, “My you look good today,” and think to themselves, “What—didn’t I look good yesterday?” A literal person can hear a comment such as the door should be closed and they will get up and close it while an inferential may look over and think to themselves, “Ya’, it probably should be closed.” As such, the way we process information can further exacerbate problems in communication.
I have spoken to many experts about this communication problem ranging from men like Dan Arielly, who points out how frequently we lie to each other to John Gray, author of Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus. What I discovered is the universal agreement on one aspect of our communication issues: we don’t listen well or enough.
If we are ever to bridge the communication divide, we must first patiently and attentively listen, and then instead of providing some answer that we have thought of before they were through speaking, enquire more and allow the speaker to fully flesh out their ideas and thoughts. Only once we understand the real meaning behind communication efforts will we be able to begin to respond intelligently and with compassion. Until then two people may continue to speak to one another only to have both go away upset and/or thinking, he/she doesn’t understand me.
My thoughts anyway, what are yours?
As always, thanks for the read.