Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Communication about Communication

Spoiler Alert:  The following post was written by Butler and is, therefore, reasonabily serious, dull, and school marmish.

BUTLER:  I object!  I believe I have used rather entertaining examples to make my point.  However, I will ignore the barbs and insults that I have grown to expect from Bagman and sometimes even Mark and will continue. 

Ahem. Communication.  Let us begin.

Screwed up communication is the bane of mankind.

BAGMAN:  "I'll bet a million dollars that that's the first time in history that anyone has used the phrase 'screwed up' and the word 'bane' in the same sentence."

BUTLER:  "Sit down, class!  And you just made my point.  Not hearing what someone is saying has started more bar brawls, divorces, and holy crusades than anything!"

     But this is not surprising since there are 6 parts of any communication and it can go wrong at the junction of any of them.  And usually does.   It takes a black belt ninja communicator (two of them actually) to get any message straight. The six parts of communication are:
  1. What you feel
  2. What you think about what you feel
  3. What you actually say about what you think
  4. What someone actually hears you say
  5. What someone thinks about what they thought they heard
  6. What someone feels about what they think.
For clarification, I will give two examples.  The first is that rare piece of good communication done well by two practiced professionals. Do not try this at home.

The setting is cozy bedroom where the man is dutifully repairing a broken board on his wife's bookcase and accidentally slams his thumb with the hammer.

What he feels:      Pain
What he thinks:    Ow!  That was clumsy!  And damn, it hurts!
What he says:       Ow!  That was clumsy!  And golly gee, it hurts! (Notice that even the best still make small changes at critical places).
What she hears:   Ow!  That was clumsy!  And damn, it hurts!   (Notice that people who have been communicating a long time can sometimes hear even more accurately than the other speaks).
What she thinks:   He must be feeling clumsy and in a lot of pain.
What she feels:    Sympathy and desire to comfort him.  (Which will result in the next several cycles of good communication which will result eventually in laughter, love-making, and a bookcase that is still not repaired. 

However.  Let's see what can go wrong when amateurs attempt the same communication.  Same setting.  He slams his thumb with the hammer.

What he feels:     Pain.  (So far, so good).
What he thinks:   Ow!  Ow!  Ow!  Ow!  What an idiot!  I'm a klutz!  I hate it when I do that!  Damn that hammer!
What he says:      "Dammit!  Why does this always happen to me?!"
What she hears:   Dammit!  Why am I fixing your bookcase in the first place?!
What she thinks:   He doesn't love me enough to fix my bookcase
What she feels:    Rejection

(Let's continue this on a bit)

What she feels:   Rejection and growing anger
What she thinks:   He's a thoughtless, self-centered idiot!  And a klutz.
What she says:      "Why are you taking it out on me because you can't hammer a damn nail straight!"
What he hears:     You're a loser!
What he thinks:    She doesn't love me enough to see that I'm in pain.
What he feels:      Rejection

(Yep.  We can see where this is going.)

What he feels:    Rejection and growing anger
What he thinks:  She's a thoughtless, self-centered ass and she couldn't do any better anyhow.
What he says:     "Do it yourself then!  I quit!"
What she hears:   "I quit!"
What she thinks:  He's leaving me. 
What she feels:    Who knows?  By this time every feeling in the world is caught up in the fury tornado.

What she feels:   The roaring of the fury tornado
What she thinks:  (Note:  There is no way of expressing this in actual words.  But she is about to do it anyway.)
What he hears:    She wants a divorce.
What he thinks:   Do I grab my laptop or a change of clothes on my way out the door.
What he feels:     Deathly cold.

Now, even at that last interchange the situation would be redeemable if he had heard accurately what she had said.   Because what she actually said was, "If you feel that way..."   And if, for a nanosecond he could have realized that he didn't feel that way at all...that he actually just felt pain and a bit embarassed.  If, if, if...he might have said, "Wait, I don't feel that way!  I just feel hurt and clumsy." 

BAGMAN:  "I'm beginning to feel bored and tired of getting a lecture."

BUTLER:   "Fine.  I'm done anyway.  I just thought that communication is interesting.


Postscript from Mark -- I suppose I should add a disclaimer that conversation above is pure fiction.  Of course, it reveals that, at various times in my life, I've done my share of very poor communicating and may well screw up again in the future but this one is purely imaginary.  We're all happy here this week, enjoying the weekend. And the bookcase in the bedroom doesn't even need fixing.


  1. This is so true - and remembering it all, in the heat of the moment, is an essential skill!

  2. That sounds so much like the stuff I used to hear as a divorce lawyer that it makes my skin crawl. At some point people stop listening because they think they know what is being said -- often they couldn't be more wrong.

  3. and this was face to face - imagine the magnafication when written in the shorthand of blog comments - you don't know the person only their personna - you can't hear the smile in their voice -they can't see how you are feeling... = .... what a mess.

  4. I tell you Butler does nail it! This is a very good example of shades of communication and why we must remember if we want to say something important we plan the time carefully and make sure we have the other person's undivided attention. Nicely written.

  5. Heh, heh. And I thought the he and she and the big hammer and nail were metaphorical of today's historic healthcare event. Cuz THAT conversation is going so well...

  6. That's why I'm a believer in clarification, even if I have to ask several times.