Thursday, October 13, 2011

Communication: Encoding and Decoding What Others Say

If we as a nation didn't have a problem with communication then there certainly wouldn't be so many books on the subject, there wouldn't be university courses on it and we wouldn't need any mediators or communications specialists to come to our rescue so often.

Why is it that we are all prone to suffering with miscommunication at some point in our lives, or for some, at every stage in their lives! Men and women seem particularly susceptible to miscommunication, but then again, teenagers seem at some point to go through this with their parents. The point is, if we intend to get along with everyone we either need a degree in communications or a degree in yesmanship.

I'm not going to go into being amenable, the type of communication I am referring to is quite simply decoding what someone has recently encoded for you. This is in fact the basics of communication. When I have a conversation with someone, I am encoding what I am saying. Likewise, when someone has spoken to me, I end up decoding what they have said to me.

The way I decode has a lot to do with the mood I am in, my environment, prior experience, and my impulses. There could be one more ... This one is age related and the fact that as we age, we tend to forget some of our everyday words, we call certain items by different names and we become frustrated by our diminishing memories.

Another important factor to consider is tone of voice and where we place the emphasis in our words. We've all played the game "Chinese Whispers" at some point in our lives, where a group of people sit in a circle or straight line. The person at the beginning of the line whispers something to the person next to them, that person in turn repeats word for word what was told to them by whispering it to the person next to them, and so it goes. When the last person has listened to the words, s/he will repeat what they heard out loud.

Usually at this point the conversation no longer even makes sense, and the reason is that the encoding and decoding process has broken down because someone in the group either heard wrong or understood the message to mean something different. In the same way, we fall short in our communication with others.

I recently moved house. When my furniture arrived, I explained to the removalists that I wanted all the boxes in one room only. I lead the way to this room with the head of the group so that he could see where I wanted everything to go. A short while later one of the delivery guys asked me if he was to take all the boxes up to the third level in my house. I said "No, they are to go to the second level". His reply was, "You mean you want them to go to the floor just below the third level?"

Wasn't that what I had just said? Who's wrong?

The reality is neither of us were wrong, but our interpretation of each others answers were completely different.

Next time you're having a conversation with someone, think about the message you are trying to get across and think about the way you are going to say it. Then, think about what impact it will have on the other person. Only then should you encode your words for the other person to decode.

If all else fails, you can always go back to arguing about what you really meant to say.

Happy communicating!

~ Vanessa

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