4:30 PM. Two co-workers are arguing if the press-release of the newest product of their company, scheduled to 5PM, should be postponed. One says, “Of course it should! We don’t have the real product here to show, so how are we going to run the press release?!” The other says, “I agree that we should postpone the press-release, but it should be done as soon as the product arrives!”
After a heated discussion, both of them leave, frustrated they didn’t reach a common ground.
Wait… isn’t there something wrong here?
As you can see, of course there is! They did reach a common ground: the press release should be postponed. Yet, to them it seemed they had completely different opinions. Chance are you’ve been through this situation before (I certainly have). But what, after all causes this?
It’s simple: sometimes we just talk, but don’t speak the same language. And if this is the problem, here’s the cause: we are not communicating our messages effectively.
A Crash Course On The History of Communication
First, if you want to understand what is effective communication, then you must understand how communication was born. Here’s an abridged story.
As Denise Susan-Besserat states in her book, How writing came about, people have been communicating with each other since the Paleolithic – around 2,6 million years ago. Language was still limited, but they talked to each other to pass culture over the generations. During that process, language developed from small sounds into complex ones, and non-written communication evolved from scratched bones (possibly to count the seasons). After that, it evolved to count goods, (when farming was born, around 8000 B.C.E). It was only circa 3100 B.C.E that language started to express abstract ideas and started to transform into the writing we know today. Still, the concept of communication had not been born yet.
The word “communication”, according to Teorias da Comunicação, by Antônio Hohfeldt et. al, comes from the Latin word Communicatio (munis, “to be in charge of”; prefix co, “simultaneity, meeting”; and by the suffix tio, a particle of emphasis). The concept came from Christian monks, who would have their nightly soup and talk, gathering their isolated peers. Impressive how people from ages go could grasp something we can’t, right?
Three Signs of Ineffective Communication (And Three Possible Solutions)
- I’m not listening! La, La, La, La! – it may sound funny, but people sometimes disagree because they are not listening to each other. Had they actually paused and acknowledged what each other had to say, they would see they were talking the same language all along. If listening without pre-judging worked with old Christian monks, it should help us too, right?
- Using a lot of jargon – don’t do this unless you are talking to people from the same field as you. In advertising, for instance, “seducing” someone means convincing this person to take action (buy something, hear something, and so on). If you’re an advertiser and you’re talking to an average mom, saying you’re creating an “ad” to “seduce” 7-year old girls is asking for trouble.
- It’s all about me – if you are listening, as suggested before, but you are not giving room for someone to talk, this person might as well do the same. If anyone comes to you saying (s)he has a problem (especially a problem with you), ask questions about it. Show you care and sympathize when you can. Chances are this person will be a lot more open and you’ll reach a common ground. If you don’t, don’t force things – disengage from the conversation.