Communication seems to be something of a lost art these days. I find that when communication breaks down, the cause is either that someone simply failed to communicate or that someone didn’t quite know how to communicate. The solution to the first cause is relatively simple — just do it. The solution to the second poses a bit more of a challenge. Breakdown in written communication is typically due to a lack of knowledge and/or skill at the mechanics of writing
(something I will not go into here since, for most of us, grammar, punctuation, and spelling was beaten into us in high school English classes). Breakdown in verbal communication is a horse of another color, however. Here’s an example:
I briefly interacted with a gentleman this afternoon (about a 5-minute conversation). We started out on common ground (and common understanding), but when I walked away a few moments later, I felt a bit chagrined to realize I had no idea about what it was he ended up
talking. Somehow, in those few, brief moments of conversation, he had managed to completely lose me so that I wasn’t quite sure what point he had made (and he had made a point, as was apparent by the look of satisfaction on his face at the end of the conversation).
Looking back on that conversation, I realized, at least in part, what contributed to the breakdown in communication — he had completely skipped over the explanation of certain assumptions and background information in his haste to make his point before we parted ways. This left me thinking that he was talking about one thing when, in reality, he was talking about a related, but different, thing.
American culture moves with increasing rapidity these days. We find better and more effective shortcuts for just about everything. What’s interesting to me is that we have as yet to find a more effective shortcut for good communication. The pace of culture does seem to have an effect on communication (though I would definitely love to see some stats on this). We have less time to do everything and more activities crammed into the same 24 hours. As a result, communication tends to suffer and misunderstandings occur (and we’ve all experienced the effects of that). Good communication requires conscientiousness on behalf of the communicator (not to mention good listening skills on the part of the listener) and requires the communicator to take the time necessary to 1) make sure the effort is actually made to communicate, 2) make sure the appropriate groundwork was laid upon which to build conversation, and 3) make sure the subsequent message was communicated adequately and clearly. In effect, good communication requires slowing down a little and paying attention to the little nuances of effective dialogue, something that few of us have yet to master.