A long time ago I hypothesised that in order for you to understand something I have to get your brain to have the same “feeling” as my brain. I do this by starting with the background of the idea and getting more and more detailed. As I go through this process I use feedback from you (your comments, facial expressions, etc.) to see what your current position is. Then I provide more words and actions to help get you to the same place as I am (assuming you are willing). Once you understand my point, it is your turn to modify the idea or start a new conversation.
For me this model explains the following observations:
- Getting a message to more than one person at the same time is more difficult than just one person. I have to watch several people simultaneously and work out how to get to where I want to go more effectively without losing anyone’s interest.
- Getting a message across to a room full of people is even more difficult and requires different skills. I can’t watch everyone so I need to spend some time working out what my audience knows before I start talking.
- Communicating with a telephone gets progressively more difficult the longer it is since I’ve met someone. This is because I forget how they respond to my comments (I can no longer see them) and have to try and figure out if they understand my conversation from just their tone of voice. I estimate that only 10% of the information is transferred in a telephone call compared to in person.
- Communicating by email is even more challenging than phone calls. When I’ve just met someone and read their email I can hear their voice in my head and I can see how they are presenting with their body. As time goes by I forget what they sound like and their typical responses. After three months if feels as though I have never met them – all the voices and images have gone. I estimate that only 10% of the information is transferred in an email compared to a telephone call. [Don’t ask about Text messages!]
- Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I can’t get the message across that I wish to. I think there are two possible reasons: we are both starting from is too far away for any meeting of minds; or there is no willingness of one party to understand the message from the other.
So it is any surprise that miscommunication often happens with email? Is it any surprise that journalists who write words for a living have a very challenging job? In both cases the wrong word may cause the message to be completely misunderstood or even inverted and the mistake may only be found out much later.
Insightful? I should be interested to hear if you can think of any evidence to support or disprove my observations?