Thursday, March 3, 2011

Communication: The Big Picture

For this week's idea portion of the blog, I want to focus on the big picture of communication. This concept applies to ALL of our communication...with everyone from strangers to family.

Let's begin with a very short history. For a very long time, people thought that humans communicated one at a time. So, I might have an idea to communicate (face to face) with you. I send you my message while you passively sit by waiting to receive it. Then I wait while you send a message back to me. And so on...

Let's face it, though. Communicating is NOT like playing catch with a six year old! One person isn't just waiting for us to send our message. Even while we are talking, the other person is sending us signals (remember the blog about verbal/nonverbal-vocal/nonvocal messages??). So, in the 1960's researchers really began to develop this idea that communication is simultaneous.

Not only is communication simultaneous, but there are lots of other things going on during the communication episode. Even in a football game, while the quarterback is looking for a recipient for the ball, there's a lot of other action going on. The same thing happens while we formulate our message for our recipient. Life goes on all around us.

While we say our message and the other person responds (with words, looks, and sounds), other things are happening. First, our history with the person influences both the message and the other person's interpretation of it. If we had a fight with our friend last week, we might communicate more tentatively than with a friend we haven't recently fought with.

Second, our environment influences our communication. My book club meets at various locations each month. We tried the Starbucks at Target once. It was a fabulous idea and GREAT coffee. But the environment was just too fast and distracting to get much good conversation accomplished. There really is a time and a place for certain conversations.

Finally, noise influences our communication. By noise I don't just mean sounds. Of course, a loud environment (like the Starbucks at Target) can hinder any communication, especially meaningful conversation. Noise really refers to anything that detracts from sending or receiving a message. So, hunger, headaches, work problems, marital problems, financial challenges, and a long to-do list can all act as noise for a person.

I bet you didn't know there is SO much going on when you communicate. Perhaps now you have a clearer picture of why so many misunderstandings take place. With all the distractions happening, I sometimes marvel that we ever have a successful communication episode!

Happy Communicating~


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