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Transcultural Friendship: Our Political Future

Chapter Six: The Future Human

Section 12: Communication


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Greek Dance by Thessaloniki Dancers at Greek Festival, Saturday, May 30, 1998, St. Nicholas Church, San Jose, California.



Communication is fundamental to the operation of any human system --without it there can be no coordination of efforts among different individuals. Outside of strictly logico-mathematical systems, communication is always imperfect. Meaning is a function of experience -- and every individual has had different experiences. Thus, even a "clear" message will be subject to slightly different denotations and connotations.



In fact our judicial system is a constant exercise in interpreting the meaning of even the mo5t carefully constructed statutes; the number of split decisions, say, the US Supreme Court, illustrates the tenuous quality of the meanings assigned to words and sentences. The slippage between words and meaning may be illustrated by the following bit of graffiti: "I know you agree 100 per cent with what I said, but that's not what I meant."



Being word-and-meaning-wise is necessary to effective coordination of efforts. We all know what an exercise in futility it is when an apparent dialogue turns into a "duologue" -- two people talking to each other, but misunderstanding to such a degree that, in fact, each is engaged in a separate topic of conversation. Effective communication involves making sure messages are clearly formulated and received.



The socially competent person is prepared to find likely locations for ambiguity. Certain techniques may be employed, although at times they may come across as mechanical. For example, before responding with one's view, make sure that the other's message is understood. Feeding back a paraphrase will allow the other to clarify or to correct some of the discrepancies between what is meant and what is understood.



Words are not the only vehicle of communication. There is nonverbal communication, including body language, dress codes and other more subtle media. All art is communication. Each communications medium has things it can communicate well. Television is effective for immediacy, the theater for drama, and print for analysis. An effective communicator should master multiple media, and use each to its best advantage.



All communication involves statements about the relationship between the sender and the receiver as well as content.



The report aspect of a message conveys information and is, therefore, synonymous in human communications with the content of the message. It may be about anything that is communicable regardless of whether the particular information is true or false, valid, invalid, or undecidable. The command aspect, on the other hand, refers to the relationship between the communicants. All such relationship statements are about one or several of the following assertions: "This is how I see myself... this is how I see you... this is how I see you seeing me...." and so forth in theoretically infinite regress. Thus, for instance, the messages "it is important to release the clutch gradually and smoothly" and "Just let the clutch go, or you'll ruin the transmission in no time" have approximately the same information content (report aspect), but they obviously define very.different relationships (The Pragmatics of Human Communication, Paul Watzlawick, Janet Beavin and Don Jackson).



Sensitivity to the relational aspect of messages can avoid nonproductive interferences with communication. The relationship aspect can be used actively to establish a relationship which is conducive to understanding and cooperation. Active listening (Parent Effectiveness Training, Thomas Gordon) is a technique for communicating interest and respect on the part of the receiver that tends to promote fuller exploration and expression of ideas by the sender.



For example, paraphrasing not only establishes how well the message sent was understood but communicates that the listener cares about what the sender meant. "I messages" (as opposed to "you messages", also in Parent Effectiveness Training) demonstrate the sender's humility (acknowledging the limitations of one's own perspective) and willingness to assume responsibility for the sender's own ideas and feelings.



The pragmatic impact of such techniques is to make the receiver less defensive, and, therefore, more open to considering the content of the message. "I messages" and "active listening" are simply two specific techniques derived from a general sensitivity to the relationship aspect of messages that can be used to facilitate communication.



 Each medium makes its own contribution to the relationship aspect of the message. The pragmatic impact of this is the topic of Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media, the theme of which is also the title of its first chapter, "the medium is the message." is also the title of its Media expertise must include a sensitivity to the relationship contribution of each medium -- and how it affects the receiver and the receiver's processing of the message content.



In summary, systems competence requires effective communication. The latter, in turn, requires sensitivity to the imperfect nature of the correspondence between meaning and words or other elements of communication. Mastery of the relationship, as well as content aspects of communication is important; this would include awareness of the pragmatic contributions of the various media.







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Transcultural Friendship: Our Political Future


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