In my seminars and workshops, I often use a fictional character called Marvin the Martian.
Imagine Marvin lands on planet earth and wants to learn all about us and our planet.
And he asks “what is this thing you earthlings talk about called communication?”
How would you explain it to Marvin?
At this point people in the workshop give me answers like, speaking, listening, sharing ideas and what they believe communication is all about.
The world communication comes from Greek origins and the word ‘communus’ which means common understanding.
One way you can think of common understanding is when the picture in one person’s mind matches that of the person they are communicating with.
At this point I will ask everyone to think of a helicopter.
Then I will go around and ask a bunch of people in the room ‘what is the colour of your helicopter?’
And I get a rainbow of responses.
Red, blue, black, green.
Occasionally, a couple of people will come up with the same colours.
So it is with communication.
Most people have a very clear picture in their mind of what they are talking about when they are communicating with someone.
But more often than not, they assume the person they are talking to has a matching picture.
Which is where things usually go pear shaped.
Some information comes into our brain and we process it through our beliefs and values, and we give it a meaning.
The meaning we give to the other persons communication can sometimes be very different to the meaning they wanted us to get.
The majority of people in my experience, act with a positive intention. In the first instance, obviously for themselves but as a secondary motivation to work with the person they are communicating with.
(I did say majority of people, yes there are sometimes occasions where people do act with a negative intention, but much less than you would think).
However, sometimes we make a negative meaning and respond accordingly, even if the person’s intention was to send us a positive meaning.
This occurs primarily because we didn’t have enough information and filled the gaps with a bunch of assumptions, they can be quite off the mark.
Which is why the most helpful and best definition of communication I have ever come across is…
“True communication is the response you get.”
I know plenty of people who think they are great at communicating. They are great at going blah blah blah blah and sending out information.
But it’s what actually comes back to close the loop that makes the difference.
With our communication, are we giving enough information about our helicopter, so that the other person has a matching picture, or at the very least a matching understanding, so that we both get what we seek.
I recently was having a communication with a good friend of mine regarding an opportunity.
They said that they knew that they could trust me around a particular issue.
I thought I understood what they meant (their meaning around what they were saying), but I wasn’t sure.
So, I asked, “just so I am clear on what you mean, can you please tell me some more about that?”
Luckily, I did, because what they went on to say, was completely different to what I had assumed and could have resulted in a potential tricky situation.
(Remember that if we assume, it can’t sometimes make an ASS of U and ME).
Following on from this, is a very important point.
“The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask”