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  • Jaime Lang

The Heart of Communication

Communication is interesting because it plays such an important function in our lives and yet it is uncommon for people to really understand what it is and how it works. On an individual level communication plays a key role in helping us to develop a sense of belonging, security, and identity. On a group level it is necessary to complete complex tasks, organize behaviors, and respond to different circumstance.

Communication is super important for wellbeing because it is what connects us to each other. To be unable to communicate is to be isolated and alone. It is also to have to face all of life’s challenges with only the resources you yourself can supply which for most people are fairly limited. People aren’t meant to exist in complete isolation, and so as humans we need to be able to communicate in order to experience health, security, and fulfillment.

Unfortunately for us, communication is one of those skills that we all assume we know how to do well and therefore don’t go through the trouble of learning any more about it. The reason this is unfortunate is because if you spend a day observing how people interact you would quickly come to the realization that in spite of this confidence many people completely miss each other during interactions. It is not uncommon to listen to a conversation between two people and realize they are having two completely different conversations. It is even less common to hear arguments erupt in which one person swears they said one thing and the other swears that it was something completely different.

The truth is that even though we rely on communication to survive and have numerous ways to communicate with each other, as a species we are not very good at it. It’s okay though, communication is actually a lot more complex than we realize and when you think about the complexity it is understandable that we would struggle with it.

The concept of communication can be broken down into a number of components.

First you have the vehicle or mode of communication. This describes how communication is taking place. Are you talking? Writing? Texting? Reading each other’s body language? Singing? All of these are modes of communication. In fact any form of expression is actually a form of communication—whenever we express ourselves we are communicating something with the people around us.

Next you have a sender or transmitter and a receiver. The sender is the person who is creating the expression. They are the one who is sending out the message. The receiver is the person who is listening or receiving the message.

Now here is the tricky part, the sender and receiver both come with their own perspectives, histories, cultures, emotions, and priorities. These might not seem important but they play a huge role in both the way messages are sent and received. Even if communication was strictly about the choice of words in a statement (it almost never is) those words are going to be interpreted through the lens of the person putting them together and the person receiving them and if those lenses are not in alignment one sentence can have two completely different meanings. When you add the fact that we often include emotional undertones and subtext the process of coding and decoding messages can become extremely difficult.

You get the idea. Communication is complex and it’s very easy to misinterpret what someone says or to have what you say be misunderstood.

At this point I would love to give you a list of techniques to make you a more effective communicator. I will give you some tips which can sometimes help to facilitate clearer communication, but before I do that, I want to make something very clear. That something is that there is no standard way of communicating that will be well received and understood all the time. The reason for this is because every person that you meet speaks their own unique language. There is a lot of cross over between people with similar backgrounds, understandings, and experiences but since every person has had a different experience, they will interpret messages differently. The heart of communication goes back to the reasons we need communication which I talked about in the beginning. Communication connects us. Communicating is about understanding the person you are communicating with. Once you understand them you are able to see their perspective, take the context of their expression into consideration, and make sense of that expression in the current environment.

The best way to improve your ability to communicate is to take time to get to know who you are and to genuinely seek to understand the person you are communicating with. This means to listen—not only to the words—but to the entire person behind the words. Only when you have a good idea of where the other person is coming from can you be sure that you are interpreting their message correctly and create your response in terms that they will also be able to interpret. Imagine that you were trying to describe a rainbow to someone who is colorblind, but you didn’t know that they were colorblind. Can you imagine the difference in terms you would use when you found that information out? We do this to each other all the time though. We will talk about something that is obvious, common sense, or clear to us and assume that it is also obvious, common sense, and clear to the other person without providing the context for that person or stopping to assess if that person would have had an experience similar enough to share our own view. If we took the time to understand the other person’s perspective we could speak to them in terms they are familiar with in order to bridge the gap of context and create understanding. Of course, this can only be done if we actually get to know each other and it is why understanding the other person as a full person is crucial to also being understood by them.

Okay, now that I’ve emphasized the heart of communication and the importance of relating to each other as people and not just worrying about words, here is a list of techniques that can sometimes make communication a little clearer:

· Listen first so that you know where the other person is coming from

· Use precise language that the other person is familiar with

· Pay attention to context and emotion

· Clarify and ask clarifying questions to make sure that you are both on the same page (this includes re-stating what the other person said in your own words)

· Do not start thinking about how you will respond while the other person is still talking (you can’t put your response together and listen simultaneously, if you are thinking about what you want to say next you aren’t listening)

· Provide clear examples if you are explaining something complex or that the other person is unfamiliar with—make sure that those examples draw on something that person is familiar with.

· If you do misunderstand something then admit that you misunderstood it and ask for clarification

That’s all for this post. If you have other communication tips please feel free to comment them.

Thank you for reading. Have a great night.

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