In the age of instant connection, broadband internet, smart phones, WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Facetime and no doubt a few more that I have no knowledge of, we feel we are connected with our friends, family and loved ones all the time no matter which corner of the world we live in. There is no denying that technology has indeed made it easy for us to feel a sense of nearness. We update our Facebook timeline, post photos, tweet even the most trivial happenings which gives us a false sense of camaraderie. But are we truly communicating?
What is communication?
Webster’s dictionary defines communication as ” : the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else”.
However Business dictionary defines it as ” Two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange (encode-decode) information, news, ideas and feelings but also create and share meaning. In general, communication is a means of connecting people or places.
The crucial difference in the two definitions is the sharing and mutual understanding that is highlighted in the second, which I feel is the most important string that binds two people in true communication.
The long distance connectivity that technology provides, even though convenient is inadequate as a lot of non-verbal communication through which empathy and kindness gets expressed in interactions is not conveyed even with Skype.
Aristotle is regarded as the first proponent of a model of communication in 300BC. The model has five elements
Primacy is given to the speaker as the aim is to influence and change the audiences perception and thought.
His model focuses mainly on communication at a collective level, the speaker trying to understand his audience, conveying suitable thoughts to the audience and attempting to convert them to his/her thinking.
But, it is perhaps not the goal in interpersonal communication and relationships. Interpersonal communication is not a power play but rather an attempt to understand and find “common” ground. This quest to understand, to find “common” ground should form the root of interpersonal communication. Etymologically communication is derived from– ” late 14c., from Old French comunicacion (14c., Modern French communication), from
Latin communicationem (nominativecommunicatio), noun of action from past participle stem ofcommunicare “to share, divide out; communicate, impart, inform; join, unite, participate in,” literally “to make common,” from communis”.
Note the last term “communis” literally “to make common” in other words to find commonality!
So, what are the ingredients for “communication”, for understanding, or finding common ground?
Presence, Listening and Responding are the tripod on which communication rests!
What is presence?
It is being focussed, aware, alert with all the senses alive and open, attentive in the “moment”, to the words spoken, the expressed and non-expressed feelings and emotions of the “other” and the self.
Being present is very difficult if not impossible, as it needs moment by moment consciousness, a high degree of emotional intelligence and a constant checking of the Ego. It’s especially difficult when facing seismic anger when the Ego senses danger and is looking to either “flee or fight”. Old habits learnt over a lifetime are difficult to overcome. The mind wanders off, seeking half baked answers to misunderstood questions, searching for retorts or rebuttals opening further rifts.
In a dialogue between two people with different perceptions, feelings and thoughts, as no matter how close we are, there are bound to be differences. At such times a calm, cool appraisal of the situation is required and focussing on the breath, the inspiration and expiration might calm jangled nerves and soothe the seething brain.
The second element is Listening! Conventionally what we hear with our ears is considered listening but as Deepak Chopra points out in
“The soul of leadership” listening is more multidimensional. Its necessary not only to hear the words at a physical level but gauge the thoughts behind them with the mind, connect with feelings and emotions with the heart for listening to become effective listening. Personally I am far from achieving it, but it is an aspiration, a goal!
Finally responding rather than reacting, as our lower brain would lead us to do is the final leg of the tripod. The chimp in us is still alive and is constantly on the look out for threats, real or perceived and before our cortex can figure out a rational solution our amygdala will trigger a lightning reaction perhaps causing more harm and hurt feelings. So as the Buddha said 2500 years ago!
“Do not learn how to react, learn how to respond”
And as the Prophet Muhammad’s Hadith states “whoever believes in Allah and the last day let him speak good or remain silent” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Perhaps if we heed the wise words above and rest our communication on the tripod of “Presence”, Listening” and Responding” we can have better understanding and find common ground which will surely lead to harmonious relationships. This concept by extension to groups, sects, communities, religions, nations ….. perhaps could lead to peace which is sorely missing in the world today!