Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Subtle Art of Communication

What I feel is an unfortunate consequence of our technological 'advancements' is that the art of communication is being lost. Text messaging, emails and other methods that remove face-to-face contact or rely upon uneducated writers stifle the effectiveness of communication.

This is not to say that face-to-face communication is not without its' difficulties. This is very true with parent-child relationships which will be the subtext of this posting.

A few things got me thinking about this. This Summer my gal-pal and I are at a woman's house helping her cook. The woman asked my gal-pal to get the regular milk [1% for her] out of the icebox. Turns out that it was starting to spoil. This mansion has refrigerated drawers built into the island which the woman had put some buttermilk in when she returned home from the grocery.

As I was already aware that there was a half gallon of 1% in the drawer I told the woman to use the milk from the drawer. She replies that there is just buttermilk in there and for me to walk to the grocery and get more. As I approach the door of the grocery my gal-pal calls and says never mind we found a half gallon of 1%.

Upon my return I was informed that they "found" the half gallon of 1% in one of the refrigerated drawers. I then mentioned the particular drawer in which they "found" it which is exactly where I told her to look. She responded that I didn't tell her that there was 1% milk in there. But I did. She just didn't listen to me.

She heard me say that the milk was in the top drawer. But she heard it through her filter of what she had already done which was just add a half gallon of buttermilk to that drawer. She then assumed that I was referring to the buttermilk and not the 1% of which she was unaware was in there. But I told her it was and here is how.

Rule number one is that I am consistent in not providing false information. The milk taken from the icebox was 1% which is what she wanted and which I was aware of from the discussion about the ingredients of the recipe. So I accurately told her "look in the top drawer." There was no need to restate the subject if she was listening instead of just hearing. Hearing is the physiological auditory process by which sound waves compress against the tympanic membrane [mka - eardrum] producing stimulation at corresponding frequency levels which are carried as electric impulses to the brain. It is the processing of these signals that constitutes whether listening occurs. Thus, hearing simply involves receiving an audible signal. Listening though requires cognition of the meaning of the audible sounds. It's the process of applying the sounds to an already existing library of knowledge and experiences stored in the brain and then determining the intent that constitutes listening.

If it can be so difficult for someone to understand a command so simple as look in the drawer for the milk then imagine the difficulty in understanding a child who is not nearly as articulate as myself. It is especially difficult when adults can't even structure sentences appropriately or use forms of speech consistent with grammatical structure. I will not get into this deeply now but you may want to ready what I posted about "suddens".

Children and adults differ significantly in the filters through which they listen to the sounds they hear. Similarly, men and women do the same but with more of a biological basis for the difference in interpretations. [Later I will write about gender and communication] I find that through common daily communication adults frustrate the child by sending conflicting messages.

My mother once walked back into the room where my son and I were playing a game of Chess. She asked if that was "a new game". Without hesitation he correctly replied, "No, Chess has been around for centuries." She then scolded him for being a "smart-ass" and I commended him for his accurate response.

My father is equally lacking in communication skills. He then comes in the room and asks if I brought the banana with me that is sitting out on the table. As I had not I correctly responded by saying, "No." A few minutes later I went to the kitchen to prepare lunch for Therin and I but couldn't find the banana. I asked my father where the banana is. He responded that he ate it. I would have said it is in my digestive tract. The point here is that he ate the food I had just set out as part of the meal I anticipated prepareing for Therin and me and I asked him why. He said that I had just told him that I wasn't going to eat it. I had not.

What makes this more interesting is when we were in the kitchen previously he told me I should eat that spotted banana because he won't, as he likes them with a bit of green still showing on the peel. So apparently I should do something because I am told to but then I am later given the implication that if I do not bring the food to their house then I can't eat it. Since I set out the banana that he said I should eat but didn't bring then he is going to eat it and not any of the four slightly green ones.

Computer software and web content which our children are inundated with exacerbate the problem. I still have difficulty in responding to the query "Do you wish to proceed" and only being able to locate two radio buttons -- "ok" and "cancel" -- of which neither are accurate responses. It is a "yes" or "no" question.

Children often don't possess the experiences to articulate or understand language as the adult does or should. So it is important to first understand the child before the child can understand you. This means talking on the child's level. Not sounding like a monosyllabic android running low on power but engaging in dialogue that has concrete meaning until the child can think abstractly.

Depending upon age and maturity children often cannot envision the long-term consequences of their actions. They will live more for the moment. It is asking a child to make a huge jump from "don't run down the stairs" to "stop that before you end up eating out of a tube". But we know the immediate consequences; bruises, sprains, or broken bones. We should also be able to envision the long-term; physical therapy, loss of employment capacity or paralysis.

Back to the basics of language.

Language refers to the cognitive faculty that enables humans to learn and use systems of complex communication. This is acquired through social interaction, most often parent-child, resulting in fluent speech by the age of three years.

There are three schools of thought when it comes to language. One sees language as an innate process evolving from a fixed biological structure unique to humans. This approach largely applies to the social stratification as a manifestation of an existing trait.

Another, as espoused by philosopher Noam Chomsky, is the structuralist viewpoint which is commonly used in formal logic, semiotics, and in formal and structural theories of grammar. This viewpoint sees language largely as a structure consisting of formal rules effectuating the transmission of thoughts or ideas.

Finally, language may be seen as a function of social cooperation. This view relies upon grammatical construction and the plasticity of that construction as employed by speakers. Thus, the manner by which social interaction is regulated through speech is an ever changing one.

Taking all three of these concepts generally applied simply means that the meanings of words convey thoughts. The Japanese language contains numerous words that do not have a direct translation to English because of the thought that the word represents. Thus it stands that improper use of words will not evoke the intended action or feeling that the speaker is seeking. Thus, correctly applying the grammatical structure, meanings and social complexities to language is essential to effective communication.

It is thought that some of the mis-communication between the genders has its basis in the innate grammatical structure of language. As I often say, "Women are from Venus, men are from Earth." Men prefer the logical structure of language whereas women use the more intuitive or social adaptations to language as a plastic form of communication.

Understanding this gives one the vision of conflict that often arises in relationships as having a biological basis. Remediation of this conflict requires acknowledgment and adaptation. Left unchecked it becomes the formula by which most marital conflict and child custody battles are founded upon. Misuse of language is often the root of abuse of partners and the basis by which the needs of the children are neglected. Not all mis-communication is as dire and can even be comical.

The entirely misused word -- a malapropism -- is often compensated for by context and does not subvert the speaker's intended message. "Years of women's suffrage under autocratic societal norms has resulted in an ongoing struggle to achieve parity in the workplace." Being given the right to vote -- suffrage -- has quite the opposite meaning of suffering under some type of dictatorial rule. The irony in hearing that giving women the right to vote has made it difficult for them to achieve equally is humorous. The enlightened listener should be able to easily transpose this malapropism. However, the more commonplace misapplication of words can make communication difficult when the enlightened and ignorant person engage in a discourse.

Many of us have reconnected through Facebook. Sometimes this leads to reconnecting face-to-face which when anticipated may produce the statement, "I am so anxious to see you." To which I respond, "No reason to be worried. I am actually quite exited about it." While both statements are made with exuberance, the first conveys a feeling of reservation or apprehension. Anxious means to be consumed by anxiety, worry. Mad is a state of being -- an actual psychiatric condition. Angry is an emotion. Don't go into court and say you are mad. I could ask for a full-blown mental evaluation to be done.

I suggest that you do a search for commonly confused word pairs. You may then reduce your level of vocabulary ignorance -- lack of knowledge -- so you don't appear to be stupid -- lack of ability or desire to attain knowledge. There you may learn the distinction between scared and startled. One being a basic physiological response while the other relies on past experiences, deliberation and cognition to form an emotion. While some of this may seem overly technical and beyond the requirements of daily conversation it can have a profound impact of children who are attempting to learn the language and become torn in a subconscious battle of allegiance to parent or professional educator. But all may not be lost.

"Through our combined efforts you and me will be able to bring about the needed changes." This came from an education policy director in a major city. The policy I recommend is to first learn to speak correctly.

Someone may ask me how long is the movie. I may say four reels as length is a measure of distance -- point A to point B. Now if the person wants to know the amount of time it takes for the film to pass through a projector from point A to point B then the question should be "What is the duration of this film" -- a measurement of time. While on a numeric subject try this technical one. Often people see something like "48732659" and may accompany that with let me read the numbers to you. There is only one number -- comprised of 8 digits.

The misuse of words is deeply embedded in our society. I wrote about marketing in my last posting. If you haven't yet then please read it. If you have any doubt as to the impact of marketing consider this -- cars, bicycles and other modes of mechanical transportation are often associated with speeds. 21 speed bicycle, 5 speed automatic transmission, and etc. I was recently asked, "What's the number of speeds on that bicycle?" My response, "Infinite! -- but it has 9 gears." Speed relates to the rate of transversing a surface. Gears defines the mode by which torque is transmitted to the contact surface through a ratio of the drive mechanism.

Another difficulty in communication is the self-centered based speaker which inhibits listening as this type of person is not listening but waiting to speak.

I do not like repeating myself yet people often ask me to do so.
"We will deliver that today"
"Are both of you coming?"
"Yes, I just told you we were both coming today"

With "we" representing the plural and "I" representing the speaking singular of any of two people then "we" is the equivalent of both. This dialogue about delivering an appliance and the recipient's desire to know if she had to handle it herself is a classical demonstration of how self-centered communication inhibits listening. Here was a clear distinction between hearing and listening.

I appreciate that you have read to this point in my discourse as now we get to the point which I feel is most important.

Children thrive when they have two of the emotional needs related to communication met. First, they want to be heard in the sense of listening. It is a mixed blessing for me that when I get around some youngsters that they immediately attach themselves to me and start telling a story or recite their experiences for the past week. They know I will divert my attention to them and listen. It often demonstrates that no one else listens to them. Second, they need to have the feeling that they are not powerless.

Adults often make substitutions in their minds to allow the speaker's meaning to come through even when presented incorrectly -- such as is done with malapropisms. This social dance around words is achieved through intonation, context and body language when used in the face-to-face setting. For written transmissions it may be more perplexing and difficult to discern. While children may be fluent with words at a young age their minds have not fully evolved in understanding these social graces applied to language. Thus, the directive or "command question" -- an oxymoron itself -- is not even presented as a question although that may be inferred by adults as the intent. But it may, to the child from his or her perspective, be viewed as only a command and it is more damaging than a demand.

Children need to be heard and have a feeling of power. I instilled into my son at an early age -- around two years -- that he would be heard and had power. As we would peruse the grocery store aisles I would tell him to grab whatever he wants or to tell me. Items continued to flow in and out of the cart. He had the power to choose what he wanted while I retained authority to limit what he acquired. He was able to express his desires and those guided our conversation about healthy foods, well-being and the influence of marketing.

The command question -- "You want to go to the park today" -- is damaging in two ways. First, it tells the child that not only does he or she not have a say in his or her outcome -- which can be quite reasonable -- but that his or her "want" or opinion will not be considered. The child is not heard. To compound the problem, the child is also told that you do not own your thoughts. That ownership is critical to well-being for a child. The child is not only commanded that he or she will be going to the park -- reasonable in and of itself -- but additionally that the parent owns his or her thoughts because even though the child may desire the contrary the parent has declared what the child wants.

Language can be a beautiful this but in the wrong hands it can be ugly and damaging.

"i no from personal experance pluse i know you if you remember." -- anonymous Facebook user

There are numerous conclusions that you can draw about this Facebook user. Are any of them positive?

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