Monday, February 27, 2012

Let's talk communicating...

Way, way back in the early 90s, I did a Bachelor of Arts in Communications at the University of Canberra and while I never went on to have a career in communications, I have found a lot of what I learned during those years very helpful.

Over the years I've observed how people communicate with one another and one thing I've noticed is that communication despite - or perhaps because of the deep penetration of technology - has become more garbled.

Many humans on the planet have had to learn to communicate via text. This is not a new phenomenon, but the speed at which we communicate with one another via text certainly is new. Text communications in this day and age are almost instantaneous.


I know how easy it is to become swept up in an emotional tsunami while operating technology - before I have a chance to reconsider my response, I've typed (and I touch-type at 90 words per minute) and sent my raw emotions to another person - often to many other people and with no real control over how quickly my communications are further disseminated to others.

That is a lot of responsibility.


However, it gets worse because text lacks a form of communication which is essential to humans as it is with all social creatures. Text communications lack non-verbal cues. They lack tone of voice, they lack those teensy tiny muscle movements which differentiate a smile from a smirk, or a frown from confusion.

We try to compensate by using smilies, but smilies fall far too short of the mark most of the time and leave a gap for interpretation as wide as the Atlantic Ocean.

Another phenomenon I've observed is a response to all this ambiguity - well, actually I've observed two responses...

First, there is the response of a well guarded opinion. Many people are too afraid to say what they think, what their opinion is incase it is wilfully misconstrued by people all too willing to take the greatest possible advantage of the non-verbal gaps in text communications.


Second, and this is what I want to highlight, there are many who are quite happy to say or write how they feel, even if it is sheltered by ambiguity and then use that ambiguity to protect themselves when others take offence to their words or catch on that they have just been made the butt of a joke they were not supposed to be privy to.

I have often heard the words, 'That was not what I meant.' or 'That was not my intention.' from people who wish to redirect blame for failed communications.

It used to be, in conversation, that the responsibility for good communications lay both with the disseminator of the communication and the recipient. Both had responsibilities when communicating. The disseminator had responsibility to be clear and concise and to choose their words carefully to impart the information they wished to communicate. The recipient's responsibility lay in listening attentively and receiving the information as impartially as they could.

With so much of modern communications being recorded, either in text or other forms of audio and visual media, there is consequently less responsibility on the recipient and more on the disseminator.

I argue this because the recipient need not listen carefully at the time of the initial communication because they can always refer back to the communication and either validate their perceived reception or have it corrected.

Therefore the onus on the disseminator to be clear and concise in their communication becomes greater as that communication can so readily be recalled in its original condition (because there are no non-verbals to be lost in recall).

When you communicate with people via the media (and by media I'm including the internet), the onus is on your to say what you mean and mean what you say. Successful people are masterful communicators. They make their intended impression and because of the endurance of the written and recorded word, that impression sticks around for a long time.

Yeah, actually, mostly... it is!

Choose your words carefully, make them work for you and have the impact you intend them to have... This skill is becoming ever more crucial in this age of technology!


Aroha @ Colours of Sunset said...

My degree is also in communications and I so loved my comm classes. They were all in the day before facebook, twitter, we barely had EMAIL back then! I'd love to be a communications specialist, the whole subject just fascinates me, yet I am not the best communicator and fall into a lot of traps that most people do! It still fascinates me though, especially in big business.

Sif Dal said...

Yeah, I really enjoyed it to, though I imagine a lot of the information I learned has been superceded by almost 20 years of further research... Then again, a lot of things don't change even though technology does change a lots. Communications challenges would be far more complex now!

bek said...

So it's probably not a bad thing that I routinely leave a post sitting around for proofing and occasionally forget to post it (and then don't post it because by that point I have nothing to add and most of the time have lost the motivation to be involved by then) :)

Rhianna said...

I really enjoyed reading this. It is so true about needing to put more thought into the way words are put together these days.

Good Job!