Communication is the process of establishing a connection between two or more entities using words or signs using a variety of means. It has a great deal in common with the word communion. Common unity on a particular subject, value or idea. Communication is the process of establishing that.
Till I went to Business school, I did not realize the seriousness of the word as I had the “gift of the gab” and was a reasonably successful salesman/supervisor/human being. I did not need formal theoretical explanation for something that was already happening. The thought never crossed my mind.
In Business School, in the very first semester we had to compulsorily take a course called Written Analysis of Cases (WAC). It should not take a great deal of imagination to know what the students called the course! The lady Professor who taught the course was every student’s fantasy come true! So, we paid a great deal of attention to what she taught us and till today, I give credit for my writing ability, for what it is worth, to that lady.
In the process of teaching us how to write, she also introduced us to the concept of ‘Communication’ as a subject by itself. Subsequently of course it was a tool to use to assess abilities of people and to spend time being an effective communicator etc.
Like most people, I flatter myself that I am a good verbal communicator. What I mean is that, I go looking for captive audiences where I can hold forth on whatever takes my fancy. The trick is in finding that elusive audience. With experience, most people in my circle of friends and relatives, find ingenious ways of avoiding me. It is that singular lack in my life that prompted me to take up to blogging. Here too, I find that though I pontificate, some posts get a great deal of comments and some fall flat. It is however a learning experience and I am enjoying that.
I was once told by a Facilitator in a workshop on Effective Communication that my physique and the tone of my voice was very intimidating and strangers would feel hesitant to establish two way communications with me. I took him up on this and took him out of the hall where the workshop was being held into the lobby of the hotel. I walked directly up to the first person sitting on a sofa and extended my hand and introduced myself and asked him what he thought of my approach. He stuttered and stammered and said that he felt intimidated. That was my moment of epiphany. It was then that I realized why my employers had sent me to the work shop in the first place!
So, I had to reinvent myself and learn to moderate my body language, tone and bearing to be more effective in my verbal communications. The point of sharing this story is that there are many improbables in the art of communication and most of us do need some training to be more effective than we are.
I came home after that workshop and shared this incident with Urmeela and she asked “Have you noticed, I don’t criticize you any more?” I answered, in all honesty, “No, I have not.” And she continued – “Of course not, you never do!” I was completely taken aback and sat down and for the first time in perhaps twenty odd years of being married to her, discussed my behaviour with her and her impression on my communication skills with her and others. It is a measure of the kind of marriage that we had that we could have this conversation and I could learn a great deal from it.
Malcolm Gladwell in his fantastic book “Blink” talks about psychologist John Gottman who has spent a life time studying behavior patterns that establish whether effective communication between married people takes place or not and has developed an instinct for identifying marriages that are doomed to fail. He has narrowed down to four, from many traits that lead to ineffective communication taking place between husband and wife. He calls them the four horsemen! They are Defensiveness, Stonewalling, Criticism and Contempt. In fact, he identifies the last, Contempt as the most important factor leading to breakdown in communication and subsequent failure of the union itself.
When I read this, I was amazed at how true it is that these factors play a vital role in determining one’s own communication skills even outside the institution of marriage. If we can consciously observe our own action/reaction in any communication to identify if the inner emotion is any one of the factors, we can take corrective steps to ensure that we overcome this, what Gottman calls negative emotion override, by a positive one. Similarly, when we are at the receiving end, we can take such steps as necessary to identify the negative emotion overdrive, and react in such a way to make it a positive one.
Since reading the book three years ago, I have consciously tried to do that, and on many occasions have succeeded in turning around very nasty situations within the family and among friends. In the recent past, since my father moved in with me, it has been a great tool to identify my own negative emotion overdrives and to ease the inevitable tension that his presence and behavior has on my equilibrium. The root cause is the fact that he is the father. He expects to exercise power and control over me. Depending on the particular situation, I used to through one or more of the four horsemen without fail and have now learnt to identify such reaction and handle it to ensure that I do not tie myself into knots. A kind of communication with myself as it were. Which brings me to that wonderful phenomenon of communicating with oneself, as being of vital importance in retaining one’s sanity in troubling situations. This is an aspect of communication that does not receive the attention that it deserves and with this post, I hope to impress on my readers the importance of that.
If we can keep an open mind, we can learn many things from our near and dear ones and become more effective in our communications. What prevents that from happening however, is that we are so full of ourselves, at least I was then, that we think that we are God’s gift to mankind and we do not need to change our ways. I used to feel like that and occasionally do so even now.
From all that formal and informal training the one thing that I learnt is that to be a good communicator, one needs to take in more than giving out. Listening more than speaking, asking questions, seeking clarification and simply paying attention, makes one a great communicator than the opposite of all that I have written here. Difficult, but with conscious practice, possible to achieve.
Before my audience gets bored with my communication today, let me sign off with a fantastic statement from a fellow Senior Citizen. What great communication!