Communication: It Takes Two (Suggestion 7)

Probably the most important thing we do in life, communication takes place in many different ways. Music, painting, sculpture, mime, facial expressions and our behaviour are all ways of communicating. For most of us, however, WORDS are the way in which we’ll communicate most often.

Talking/Speaking and Writing are ways of giving out information. Listening and Reading are ways of taking in information.

For communication to be successful, what is taken in by the listener or reader should be the same as what was sent out by the talker/speaker or writer. Often, however, this is not the case. For communication to be effective, both the transmitter (the talker, speaker or writer) and the receiver (the listener or reader) need to be working properly.

Sometimes you might be criticised for not expressing yourself clearly. This happens to people at all stages in their lives, from early days right through to when they are leaders of their organisations, or even of their countries. It might be justified criticism; I’ve mentioned before the importance of speaking English so that it can be understood as widely as possible. But sometimes the criticism is undeserved, and it is actually the listener or reader who needs to work harder to understand the message that’s being sent.

If you want your message to be clearly understood, try to put yourself in the position of the person who’s going to hear or read it. Then put it in words that they will understand. Try to make references to things that they are familiar with. It’s no good trying to explain what a piebald horse is like, for example, to someone who has never seen a horse, unless you make some reference to things that they HAVE seen – a cow, perhaps, or a dog or a fox.

Here’s a game to try with your communications partner. (Hint: It’s easier if you use squared paper. If you have a printer you can search online for “squared paper to print” and create your own; alternatively, most large supermarkets sell exercise books with squared paper.)

Each person takes a sheet of paper and a pencil.

The transmitter – the person who is going to send the message – starts by drawing something on his/her piece of paper, without letting the receiver – the person who is going to try to understand the message – see him/her doing it.

They sit where they cannot see each other’s piece of paper, and allow the receiver to rest his/her paper on a surface which makes drawing easy.

The aim of the task is that the receiver should end up with the same drawing on his/her sheet of paper as the transmitter has drawn originally. The only way to get that done is for the transmitter to tell the receiver what to do. Only words are allowed, and no gestures or – of course – looking at the other person’s piece of paper.

It is a better test of your communication skills as a speaker if you don’t allow the person listening to ask you questions.

Hint 2: start with a really easy shape, such as a square or rectangle. Think about where on the page it is drawn, and how large or small it is, and how you are going to convey those details to your partner.

Hint 3: it can be helpful if each of you has a ruler, to help you measure distances and to draw straight lines. The person receiving the instructions might also find an eraser useful, as (s)he sometimes realises from a later instruction that something (s)he drew earlier must be wrong. That’s why you’re doing this in pencil, not in ink.

As you get better and better at this – with practice, you’ll learn how to express yourself more clearly – you can try more complicated shapes, such as curves, and have more than one shape on a page. Explaining where they are in relation to one another is a useful challenge to face!

The evidence of how successful you have been will emerge when you compare the original drawing with the listener’s result. Swap places after one round and try again; it’s important to appreciate just how difficult the task is for both people, not just one of them.

This is mainly an exercise to improve the transmitter’s skills – the speaker’s skills. It makes you think what it is like to be in the receiver’s – the listener’s – situation; and that is always key to successful communication.

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