Communication 101

We think communication is simple, but it’s not. There are four basic steps to communication: encoding, speaking, hearing, decoding. I decide to communicate something and so I encode it in language. Then I speak. My husband hears my words, and then he decodes them into a concept. Then he encodes a response and speaks it, and the tennis match is on.

The problem is that the encoding and decoding process is fraught with difficulty. For example, my husband will notice that the dining table is cluttered with books, and ask me to clean up the dining room. What he encoded was the idea that books don’t belong on the table, and therefore I should put them away. When I hear the words “clean up,” I decode them as vacuuming, dusting, and tidying up. So I will vacuum, wipe down the table, and put my books in a neat stack, because I decoded his idea incorrectly. Now we’re both frustrated, because he sees books on the table that don’t belong there and I don’t understand why he isn’t grateful that I cleaned. (And if you know me, you know that ANY cleaning on my part should be met with gratitude!)

If something as simple as getting books off a table is susceptible to misunderstanding, it’s pretty obvious that clear communication requires a lot of effort and questioning. Be as specific as possible. In the example above, if my husband had asked me to put the books away, the misunderstanding would have been avoided. How can you clarify your communication today?