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on communication

August 23, 2005   

To be perfectly trite: Communication is a two-way street. Now, to be less trite, interpersonal communication involves two or more people who wish to convey information/emotions/empathy/knowledge/etc. One person may be the source and the other may be the recipient. Or both at the same time.

Seppo and I were talking in the car yesterday about communication and when it goes awry. Communication is one of the social contracts that we make with others. The contract says, “I will strive to make myself as clear as I can in a way that you can understand with hopes that you will understand me. You will ask me questions in areas that you are unclear about in order to understand me until we are clear. This doesn’t mean we need to agree, just understand at least the position of the other person. Our roles will switch throughout our conversation, but we will both work as hard as possible to make this comprehension happen.”

There are misunderstandings and frustrations when one feels that the other is not upholding their side of the communication bargain by not trying hard enough to understand; jumping to the wrong conclusions; jumping on the non-salient points of the conversation; etc. When this happens, instead of getting frustrated, we should uphold our part of the social contract by examining ourselves to see if we have been absolutely clear in the way that the particular listener will understand. It is possible that the other person is also not upholding their end of the contract, but merely pointing that out doesn’t solve the problem.

By seeing communication and conflicts as team efforts to come to agreement/understanding, rather than getting annoyed at someone for not understanding you (which I’m extremely guilty of, as Seppo knows), it is possible to progress beyond, “That’s not what I said!” and “Oh yes, it is!” to something much better.

I think we talked about this in context of coworkers who don’t understand social cues and parents who have a difficult time seeing their adult children as adults.

When you think someone doesn’t understand you, instead of thinking to yourself, “Any buffoon in the universe would understand what obviously just happened and why I feel this way; why can’t he/she?!” which does not help you at all, try to realize that something in the communication failed and that you may not be doing your best to let the other person know what is going on inside your head. And if you don’t know, how did you expect the other person to figure it out?! 😀

Keeping track of who’s right and who’s wrong in a conversation is ok in many instances, especially if that is the point of the conversation, as in a factual debate. Not everything has to be touchy-feely. But in a committed relationship, there is nothing to be gained by always angling for the upper hand. You only win if you both win. /cheesy counselor voice.

This entry was brought to you by the Committee to Stop Passive-Aggressiveness, a.k.a. The Group That Thinks You Should Already Have Known What It Stands For, I Don’t Know What’s The Matter With You.

August 23, 2005 at 2:21 pm

Heh, I saw your comment before you deleted it anyway. 😀

Andre Alforque
August 23, 2005 at 3:47 pm

“I do not understand.”

LOL! I wanted to edit it later; but this is not like Live Journal at all.

One major point of controversy in which communications almost always break down is politics. I am not talking about politicians; but rather, the opposing political commentary between two individuals. What would be your proposed solution? In that same vein: what about people that are out to get you? People that, no matter how many different ways you try to explain it, refuse to understand; with the belief that they already know the truth? Business is difficult in that regard. The most difficult point to make is that computers do not make errors; and further — if it is not communicated what the needs and requirements are, the program will only perform to the specified guidelines. While programmers try to build in as much error-checking as possible; there is no way to encapsulate every single conceivable error that a human can/will make.

I am currently guilty of shooting off my mouth before doing any research, so feel free to pass off these comments as trite. I thought I would get out in the open how I feel about communication before I read “Messages: The Communication Skills Book” by Matthew McKay, and “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie (recommended by my sister to help in my communication issues here at work).

August 24, 2005 at 1:58 pm

Dang, I post some half-baked nonsensical theory and now you want me to actually make sense of it? 😀 Shoot.

Hmm. I actually will have to think about it. My initial feeling is that in a political debate, you are already in a different type of social contract, if there is even a contract. It’s more of a “bi-directional persuasive dialog” rather than “interpersonal communication”. It is still important to clearly establish what your starting stances are, before getting into the persuasive/argugmentative part of it, but I find that people often are not clear or do not actually comprehend the other side’s stance.

After the parties actually “get” each other’s positions, then they can move on to the persuasive dialog part, if it seems that one or both parties are open to persuasion. If neither party is open to considering things that may change their mind, there is really no point to go further, except to have a meta-discussion about their unwillingness to change their mind(s).

Er… something blah blah.

August 25, 2005 at 10:17 am

I thought physicists had determined that it was impossible to be “perfectly trite”? Although, I haven’t been keeping up with new developments in quantum mechanics and string theory.

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