Many years ago, I was asked to do a presentation on ‘Communication Skills’ for a monthly knowledge-sharing session. The kind of thing bosses come up with when they skim the back-cover of business books with “Leadership” in the title. Having drawn the short straw, I set about gathering the requisite information through painstaking research. Yes, I clicked ‘Google Search’ since clicking ‘I’m feeling lucky’ would’ve been plain laziness. After clicking through a few sites with textbook definitions, I came across a paragraph that made sense
“When two people are talking, there are six perceptions involved; What each person thinks of themselves, what they think the other person thinks of them and what the other person really thinks of them”
(I couldn’t find the resource and so have paraphrased).
Job interviews are prime examples of the ‘2 people, 6 perceptions idea’ where the seeker is constantly trying to fill in any silence by taking it as a sign of disapproval and trying to compensate for perceived weakness from the previous answer.
Not just high-pressure interactions, the ‘noise’ creeps into most of our interactions. Just the possibility of being judged as perceived by inflections in tone, mobile eyebrows and changes in posture tend to influence behaviour and therefore undermine the purpose of communication. Just the other day I was on the phone with our local restaurant ordering takeout for a weeknight dinner. Having decided that I only needed a soup, I dialled:
Restaurant : Hello, XYZ
Me: Hi, I’d like to order for delivery
Restaurant: Yes, what would you like?
Me: One chicken shorba.
Restaurant: Onnnne chicken shorba [as he fishes out and writes on a pad (approx 7 seconds)]….then?…..
Me: ….ummm….[accompanying thought process: it’s lame to order just one thing for delivery]
Me: One Malai Chicken Tikka.
Restaurant: …Malaaaai chicken tikkkaaaa….then?….
Me: That’s it.
I put the phone down, safe in the knowledge that I won’t be the lame customer who made a delivery guy toil all the way to my address to deliver a miniscule order. I’d let the perceived question mark in the other person’s voice (that’s his job) as a signal of expectation to order more, defying any rational thought process that the number of items have nothing to do with inconvenience to the delivery guy! And now I’d overeat because I was influenced so easily.
My ideal world, communication-wise would be Gaia, a networked world. All information available to all without the distorting effects of any form of communication. Sure, it’d make a game of chinese whispers impossible but would reduce a fair bit of angst arising from mistrust and the perceived lack of information that created the ‘Lemon Market Theory‘
Which is why I like written communication. No verbal cues or body language shifts, just the message. Thought through and articulated, the message is in black and white. Some advantages that I think the written medium offers:
- The receiver has multiple passes at it and is not being distracted by voice modulations that might indicate impatience/boredom/anger or any other emotion.
- Responding to a written message involves structuring your thoughts around what’s on paper (the issue at hand) and eliminating unfounded opinions.
- It also eliminates that most infuriating experience of watching the listener’s lips moving to formulate a response before you’ve made your point which in turn results in the urge to interrupt the speaker to ram home your point and so on and so forth.
Yes, caps locked text, multiple exclamation marks and non-existent grammar sometimes destroy any hope of sense from a written communique but I think it takes more effort to screw up in writing than in speech. And no doubt, certain situations lend themselves better to certain modes of communication.
What do you think? Have you felt yourself responding to the tone rather than content? To preconceived notions based on history rather than the facts at hand? Has a gum-chewing bored-sounding customer service rep made you see red even though his tone had nothing to do with your issue? Or found yourself in a meeting with each participant looking to “say her piece” causing the discussion to meander? Or does what works depend on how our individual brains are wired thus negating most of the points made above?