As a student of good communication, I look differently than other people at many dialogues, conversations, and interactions. I myself still understand so little about it, but I do know that successful communication between humans is hard. Most of the time, it slips into misunderstandings, insults, heartache, rejection, confusion, regrets, anger and shame. We start a new conversation when we have to find out exactly what went wrong. Very often, it is a single word. Or it was the right words, but the wrong tone of voice. Or it was even a nice tone of voice and the right words, but a facial expression that said something else.
Sad Facebook communication
I read the sad, angry strands of a conversation between two former acquaintances and confidantes on Facebook, and I decided to again look up the definition of communication. I am aware of the theories and models about communication, but alas, that is not the general person’s understanding. So come on, Google, help me out. What do you say about the definition of successful communication?
The first three or four hits all had it wrong: imparting information to another person, sending or receiving communication (e.g. phone or satellite communication), transferring information or connecting people. This is the problem: we all think that sending a message or explanation or fact to another person is communication. But that is one-directional or one-way communication. Sending and receiving puts all the messaging in one direction from A to B.
So let us take an example here. Two lovers agree that they are getting married and will be happy for as long as possible, together, making a new family. Abraham, person 1, is the communicator. Person nr 2, called Zena, is the receiver in this case. Abe says to Zena that he would please like a small wedding. Zena nods, and says fine, she also only wants only her closest family and friends at the wedding. Three months before the date, they start the arrangements. Abraham wants to have a look at a place near the beach, and Zena is happy with that; she has heard great things about it. They have both agreed to keep it small, and this place seems perfect for small weddings.
Getting there, they are very impressed and excited. The organizer from the venue asks the radiant couple how many guests they would like to prepare for. Abe and Zena speak at the same time. Abe says ten; Zena says sixty. Abe and Zena, both shocked, stare at each other. How many, asks the organizer? They both agreed to a small wedding?
Problem is, they never shared meaning about what “small” means for the other. How many people make a small wedding? Ten, certainly. In normal terms, 60 could also be small (if one compares it with 100).
Sharing of meaning. That’s what was missing. It is like two people talking two different languages that the other one does not understand. They conveyed words or facts, but without understanding, or even trying to understand.
Sharing of meaning means precisely that: that we always have to try and share what we mean, rather than just speaking and hearing words. It means focussing on the other person’s or group’s meaning, not only their words. It is any wonder that we so desperate at times like no-one understands us?
Understand me, understand you = good communication
We always have to relentlessly try; really try and say and understand what something MEANS to us. Because communication is about the sharing and common-making of meaning. Not mere information, or words, or looks. We have to go to the trouble to explain what it means to us and others. Shared meaning makes good communication. Not only proper speaking, but also good listening.
Maybe, if Abe and Zena got clarity in the beginning about what the word “small” really, deeply meant to each of them, there wouldn’t be a case now of “I said, you said; I heard, you heard”. There will only be: we shared what ‘small’ means to you and what ‘small’ means to me. With an open heart and open mind, open ears and open attitude.
Yes. It is very hard. But try.