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Insights: Art of Communication
March 17, 2010

Art of Communication

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"Be wary of turning into a man that often speaks but never talks."

- Oliver Wendell Homes

"Words are the clothes that thoughts wear - only the clothes."

- Samuel Butler

I was reading an article in the Cape Times yesterday about the recent conviction of Julius Malema on charges of hate speech. What really hit home for me were the powerful quotes (shown above) used by the magistrate who handed down the ruling.

The key to prosperity

We devote an entire module of the New Insights Life Coach Training Programme to the theme of Communication - and rightly so. Communication is not only vital to our ability to survive but it holds the key to our prosperity and enjoyment of life.

What is inherent and obvious - but surprisingly often lost on people and companies when it comes to discussing the nature of communication - is the fact that it is a two-way thing, meaning that there is always a message giver and a message receiver.

Minimising distortion

The true art of good communication lies in ensuring that there is minimal distortion between the message that is given and the message that is intended. Sounds simple but in truth it is exceedingly complicated!

My wife, Jenni, and I have developed a liking for a UK TV program called Come Dine With Me that features five strangers who agree to test their culinary skills on each other over the course of five evenings. Each day, one of the participants hosts a three course dinner at their house and the others secretly score their efforts. On the final day the winner is revealed and he/she receives a prize of £1,000.

Trouble with authenticity

The intriguing aspect of the program, for me, is comparing what the participants say to their hosts while they are dining as opposed to what they say in private to the camera. Very often the comments bear no relation to each other!

For example, the host might ask one of the guests how they are enjoying the starter. "Oh, it's really great" comes the answer. Then later, when interviewed alone by the cameraman, the same guest will answer the same question with: "It was undercooked and tasteless. Quite frankly I thought it was awful."

Samuel Butler's quotation about words being the clothes that thoughts wear is so apt in this case. What we think and what we say are often two different things. So, not only is there an intended message and a received message, there is also a given message that can be quite different from that intended!

Further complications

Further complicating the issue is the process of filtering that occurs at the receiving end. Let me provide an example…

Recently married Dawn is at home looking forward to her husband, Peter, returning home early from the office so they can enjoy the relaxing and romantic meal out that they planned last week to celebrate their six month anniversary.

The phone rings and Peter has bad news:

"I'm terribly sorry, my love, but the boss has insisted I stay on to complete the XYZ proposal that has to be delivered to the client tomorrow. It still needs a few hours of work and I'm the only one who can do it, I'm afraid. I don't have another option."

Peter's message is genuine. He feels sad that he can't make the dinner appointment and resolves to make it up to Dawn at a later date. Dawn, on the other hand filters the message through her belief system.

Dawn's mother and father divorced when she was a teenager as her mother caught her father having an affair.

"Men are all the same," her mother would say. "They can't help it, they are programmed to be unfaithful."

At university, Dawn's flatmate and best friend was distraught when her boyfriend left her suddenly for another girl. This only served to reinforce the seed of male distrust planted by her mother and before she knew it Dawn, herself, started to believe that no man could be trusted around other women.

A recipe for trouble

As Dawn contemplates Peter's message she remembers back to the golf day that Peter's company put on some weeks ago and the leggy new sales lady that Peter introduced her to. Putting one and one together and making five, Dawn reasons that Peter must be having a fling with the sales lady.

Needless to say, when Peter does arrive home, close to midnight, all hell breaks loose!

Awareness is the key

What can we do to improve communication?

Communication is a complex subject and it's certainly not a science, so there is no such thing as a perfect communicator but one thing that can make all the difference between good and bad communication is the level of AWARENESS that we have about what disrupts communication and how to minimize that disruption.

By this I mean having a keen understanding and appreciation that what comes out of the mouth or flows from the pen or keyboard of the message giver may or may not be an authentic representation of what they are thinking (that's up to them) and the thoughts that are triggered in the mind of the message recipient may be completely distorted by their belief system through which the message is filtered.

Bill's tips

To help give you the very best chance of mastering the art of communication I offer a few suggestions:

  • Have respect for the fact that every individual is unique. Each of us have different experiences, beliefs and ideas about life that shape our views.
  • Be authentic when you want to convey an important message (be honest and sincere). If you can't be honest and sincere, it may be better not to say anything!
  • Try hard to understand the person or persons with whom you are communicating. 'Step into their shoes' and try to appreciate what their 'map of the world' looks like and how your message might be received by them.
  • Try not to react to a communication on the spur of the moment. Take a deep breath while you think about how your own belief system may be distorting the message.
  • Allow space for the two way interaction to happen. Talk thoughtfully and listen generously and attentively.

    I hope this provides some food for thought!

    Warm regards - Bill.

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