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What is Communication

What is communication without understanding? Idle chatter.

What is communication really about? When you mention communication many people think of talking, but there is far more to it. Communication is the most powerful tool in life. Proper communication can handle just about every problem people have.

Your success in life depends to a large extent on how well you use this valuable tool. Everybody communicates to some degree, most do it very poorly. If you were to bluntly tell them that, they would probably get quite upset. You would get a response like "I know how to talk." Talking or writing are only part of communication.

Most people will easily recognize that there are many different forms of communication. Apart from the written or spoken word, what are some of the easily seen communications? One of the most obvious is body language. There have been whole studies on this one area, how a person holds themselves, how they move, did they cross their arms and so on. That is an interesting subject but not one you have to learn to be successful.

I am talking more about the commonly used body language, a smile or frown, laughter, crying, a shrug of the shoulders, these often communicate better than words. Even in foreign countries a person can make themselves understood with simple gestures.

The arts are another form of communication. The painter, musician, dancer, all have an idea or feeling that they want to get across to you. How well they do it depends on their expertise. When you start to notice you will find even more ways that people communicate. Architects and designers are trying to get their ideas noticed. Signs, billboards and even traffic signals are all communications.


Communication in Society

If communication is so important why don't people learn to do it properly? Because we have been doing it all of our lives we seldom pay attention to it. All too often we will keep doing something wrong, or not quite right, because we don't know that it is not right, that's the way it has always been done. A poor driver will usually tell you the accidents or traffic tickets were bad luck or the other guys fault. One of the hardest things for us poor humans to do is to admit we are doing something wrong or that we don't know how to do it properly.

What is communication like in our society? I invite you to look around and notice the upsets, broken homes and marriages, the alienated people, drug abuse, crime, wars the seemingly endless problems our societies have. Most of them could have been handled with good, high level communication.

"My husband doesn't understand me, my parents don't understand me, kids never listen, society doesn't understand me.........." Sound familiar? Communication and understanding go hand in hand. Without good communication there is no understanding.

People will always find a way to communicate their feelings eventually, a punch on the nose will certainly let someone know that there is an upset. When good communication is not used then poor communication will occur. Often it will take time to build up, a divorce is communication, a bloody revolution is the result of a governments failure to communicate.

You will sometimes hear "I don't understand, I gave them everything." The one thing they did not give was proper communication.


Parts of Communication

What is communication? Let us break it down into its component parts. I will mainly use verbal communication but you will see how it fits with other methods. What are you trying to achieve when you have a conversation. This is not a "hi, how are you?", that is not a full communication, it is just an acknowledgement of the other persons presence. It is a good start, because you need to get their attention anyway.

You have an idea, thought or emotion that you want to convey to someone (or many people). Get their attention, for example "You know I have been thinking" or just saying their name. Are they ready to receive what you are going to say? You should get some response, it might just be that they look at you and murmur something. Then you state whatever it is you want to tell them.

The next step is important. Did they understand what you said? That may sound silly at first, they speak the same language don't they? It is quite possible that you did not say exactly what is on your mind, you may not even fully know yourself until further communication occurs.

Good communication is a two or more way flow. You have probably suffered through a one sided conversation, it is very uncomfortable. What is their communication really telling you? They might just as well say "I am not interested in you and your opinions are unimportant." YUK!

On the listening side, try to understand what is being said and give a response that shows you understood. If you have not fully got what they were talking about then keep the conversation going until you do understand.


Good and Bad

Here is an example (simplified).
Little boy: "Mom, you promised to take me for ice cream."
Mother: "I'm busy right now."
"But you promised!"
"I told you, I am busy. Go and play"
"You promised, you promised". Followed by a whole bunch of screaming, an upset mother and a boy sent to his room in tears. You get the idea. Unfortunately if this kind of communication continues the boy could become destructive or otherwise hard to handle. What is his communication? "I will get your attention, one way or another."

So what exactly happened? First, the mother was not ready or willing to accept the communication. Next the boy did not say exactly what he was thinking about (as you will see later). Finally the mother never did find out what he really wanted to communicate.

A more correct communication.
"Mom you promised to take me for ice cream"
"I'm busy right now, but there is ice cream in the fridge." This shows that she has heard him and answered what she thought he was talking about.
"But you promised!" Now he is getting a little growly. This is an indication that she has not fully understood his communication.
"You are right, I did promise and people should keep their promises right?" Now she is finding out what he really wanted.
"Well I am really busy, how about we get some ice cream from the fridge for now, then when I am finished we can go out. Would that be OK?"
Now if they have always had good communication the boy would be quite happy with that answer. He might even say that it was OK, they could go another day.  The important thing here is that with a little more communication she understood what was really on his mind, the broken promise, and addressed that.


Communication and Upsets

Often when a person has a problem or an upset they don't know exactly what it is. When it is fully talked out and understood by both people the upset often goes away without any other action taken. What is communication without understanding, idle chatter.

If you are having problems or upsets with someone then it may be time to check what is your communication really about. It is so easy to lose real communication when people get angry but that is when it needed the most.

Another thing you should notice, in the second example the mother was quite willing to take responsibility for her mistake. Be a good listener, allow the other person to say what they want without getting upset or judgmental. You may not agree with what they are saying but you should at least understand it and let them know. This way it is possible to agree to disagree. Communication is the foundation on which to build Interpersonal Relationships.

Well this has been a long page, I am glad that you stuck with it and I hope it helps you.

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