The responsibility of communication

When you’re having an interaction with someone about anything there’s a few simple ‘rules’ to achieve a successful outcome for both of you.

Supposing that you’re in China and you want a cab. You hail one down and the driver asks you in Chinese where you want to go. Now supposing for stereotype purposes you’re a blonde haired, blue eyed english speaking citizen who speaks little to no Chinese other than what’s in your pocket dictionary.

The cab driver is the person in ‘control’ as he’s the one you want something from. Granted it will be exchanged for money to balance the interaction later on but at this point he could easily drive away and leave you without – and trust me, in China they do this all the time. They’re not the most patient or tolerant bunch! 🙂

So speaking in English, you try your best to tell him the address of where you want to go but he just stares blankly. You try to slow your words down, wave your hands around and even start playing charades. In frustration you consult your pocket dictionary and then in poor pin yin, you try to phonetically spell out the words. He starts yelling at you because he doesn’t know what you want and you start getting flustered. Clearly you’re not getting through.

Now at this point, some cab drivers will work hard with you to understand whilst most will try for about five seconds before throwing their hands up in the air and take the fare on the corner who looks like a local. Way less stress for him! Much like other aspects of our life, there are people who are more patient communicators/respondent than others!

So what went wrong? Well when you want to make a point, request something from someone or just be understood there are two key roles.

The communicator

This is the person who is trying to be understood. This means it may involve speaking slower, using different words (including a different language) and being patient. The key thing here is that the communicator’s responsibility in the interaction is to adapt their language and communication style to that of the listener.

The respondent

This is the person on the receiving end of the communicator and are likely someone they want something from. Their responsibility in the communication process is to acknowledge, interpret and most of all confirm or deny that they have understood the point. This is often done by ‘active listening’ which means repeating things back in context and confirming that what is being ‘heard’ matches what is being ‘said’.

So why do communication interactions break down everyday? Well I think it’s pretty easy to see, someone isn’t doing their ‘job’ properly.

We all know the things that annoy us when interacting with others – they use offensive language or social statements (to us but not necessarily to them), they don’t give feedback or acknowledgement so it’s like talking at a wall, they aren’t committed to the interaction so they’re busy multi-tasking which means they can’t honour their role properly, they brick wall us so rather than trying to actively listen or adapt their language they insist on you understanding them in their way.

It intrigues me that effective interpersonal communication skills aren’t core curriculum in every educational experience in the world. I mean without the ability to understand or be understood, we’re effectively socially dead.

It’s not an easy skill to develop – it takes some people a lifetime and others never master it. Next time you want something or you’re trying to understand, consider the responsibilities for both sides.

If you’re the communicator take a deep breath and be genuine and patient in adapting your communication style so the other person can understand.

If you’re the respondent, appreciate the communicator may lack the skills to adapt properly so work with them and most of all, don’t put up walls.

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