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Monday, 14 January 2013

The miracle of communication

So, this is my second instalment of the workshop I gave for Delft INA. In the first part, I covered what culture is. In this one, I’ll write about communication. We are used to two things, and both of them are wrong. First, we think that only humans can communicate. Second, we narrow communication down to speaking and writing.

The fact is that animals can communicate. Second, while we tend to think that communication is talking and writing, it is actually a lot more.

In fact, the vast majority of what we communicate, we don’t communicate through our speech. Instead, we use gestures, facial expressions, clothing, tone of voice, eye contact, touch- all called non-verbal communication. It is also the non-verbal part that we tend to believe. For example, if somebody tells you that he’s fine in a grave, sad voice, you wouldn’t believe them, because the tone of voice would give them away.

We forget that communication can go beyond just two people talking, or communicating verbally. Communication can also happen via pictures (visual communication) and text (textual communication). And, we usually concentrate on the speaker- the source of communication, while there are other aspects to consider: the message itself (also called content), the medium by which it is carried (speech, telephone, TV, computer/Internet, etc.), and last-but not least-the audience.

Paul Watzlawick once said: “One cannot NOT communicate”. Everything about us talks, and screams and whispers. From our choice of words to our choice of clothing, everything communicates.

For me, it is somehow a wonder that we even manage to communicate so effectively- so much could go wrong! For example, we may not hear what was being said, or fail to get our message across by choosing the wrong words or gestures. Our partner in conversation may misread our intentions. And this is only for face-to-face communication. Things only get more complicated if we add media like the telephone, or the Internet (think of email or Skype)- then we miss the non-verbal cues, like facial expressions and tone of voice. This is exactly why I called this text: “the miracle of communication.”

Because while our way of communicating is not perfect, it seems pretty effective to me, and the reason is that we WANT to communicate. We really do. Now, sometimes one of the sides is not that interested in communication- and this is why it is important to notice that communication is a two-way street. Both sides have to be willing.

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