Communication is a process that is happening within us and around us all day, every day. From the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep, we communicate. We transmit our ideas, thoughts and feelings in a giant assortment of ways. I encourage you to make a list of all the verbal and non-verbal ways you communicate on any given day. It will be a long list.
As central as communication is to our daily lives, it's easy to overlook its importance. When a topic is familiar, we generally assume we already know everything we need to know about it. But when it comes to effectively communicating thoughts, feelings and ideas, we all have a lot to learn! Like any other skill, good communication takes practice, and we keep working at it for our whole lives.
Communication impacts our personal and family lives, our workplaces and local communities, and it also has the power to shape the way our government operates. A lot of the political volatility that continues to percolate in Washington and beyond is likely rooted in a lack of respect for and modeling of healthy communication. The reality is that many of us (even people in powerful positions) never really learned that much about good communication, so we've done the best we can with the tools we had available. Thankfully, we can always add more tools to the tool belt.
Step one in improving our ability to communicate effectively is to educate ourselves about how the process works. If we want to get better at sharing our thoughts, feelings and ideas, we have to understand the elements involved.
Whether we're seeking to express a thought via text, email, letter, personal conversation, or group presentation, the same general process applies. The sender of the thought chooses which communication channel she wants to use, and then she "encodes" it. Then receiver then "decodes" that information. The journey from point A to point B sometimes happens seamlessly (yay!) but not always. There are many times when communication involves distractions that can make it a challenge to encode and decode the information in the way it was intended. These distractions are called "noise."
Have you ever tried to listen to someone when you're really hungry? It's hard. That hunger is noise. Ever tried to sit through a work meeting while you're simultaneously thinking about your relative's failing health? It's almost impossible. The thoughts you're understandably having about your sick family member are also noise. Any kind of noise makes it more difficult to process information, thoughts or feelings.
We often do not know what kind of noise is going on in other people's lives, and sometimes we're not even conscious of the noise happening in our own lives. We can try to minimize it as best we can, but at the end of the day, it's important to give one another grace. As much as you may want another person to get excited about your great idea, if that person is privately dealing with a major financial challenge, it will be really hard for that individual to meaningfully process what you're trying to convey.
There is a phenomenon that surprises me daily. Two people can interpret the exact same information in totally different ways. But how can this be if it's exactly the same information being shared? It's partially due to "fields of experience."
We all have a field of experience. Your field of experience includes your life experiences, attitudes, values and beliefs. You bring it with you everywhere you go, and it influences the way you send and receive all information. It was Wilbur L. Schramm who first put language to this aspect of communication back in the 1950s.
All of the people you will ever interact with have their own fields of experience. They have their own childhood histories, educational backgrounds, and personal preferences. All of the information that comes into our brains is filtered through our fields of experience.
Please note: We have no control over other people's fields of experience. We can't control the way other people process information. We can't control another person's past or value system. All we can do is acknowledge that fields of experience are real and that they are operating all the time.
Many of the miscommunications that happen are related to noise and/or fields of experience. The more we understand these realities, the more equipped we are to manage them. May your communications be fruitful, folks. And when we hit roadblocks, may we have the courage to address them respectfully!