It is quite interesting how we assume we know some things, but when we are faced with them, we realize we don’t know them as well as we think we do. Take communication, for instance; everyone knows what communications is! Or so we think. Some say it is talking to someone else and some others simply say it involves passing across a message to another person. While they are not wrong, communication goes farther than that.
Communication is popularly defined as the process through which a source conceives and encodes a message and then passes it through a medium to a receiver who in turn decodes it and sends a feedback. Ok, that sounds academic. Notwithstanding, it does not even completely capture the idea of communication. That’s because a lot of times, we communicate without deliberately conceiving the messages in our minds. As a matter of fact, there are several times we do not even intend to communicate, yet we do. Take for instance, two or three students involuntarily yawning in a class while the lecture is in progress. Their actions send the message that they are tired or bored or both. Though they did not plan to communicate, they actually did, and a sensitive teacher may take note. Now think of all the times you have been accused of implying something you did not actually mean. It’s because you unconsciously did or said something that was misinterpreted by others. From this, we realise that we cannot but communicate.
An influential cultural and media critic by the name Marshall McLuhan often asked the question, “Does a fish know it’s wet,” to which he would reply “No,” because the water is its natural habitat. It is when the fish is out of water that it realises that something is wrong. Have you ever noticed that you never pay attention to your breathing unless you have catarrh or some challenge with your breathing?
How many people can tell the number of times they breathe in a minute? That is because it comes naturally to them. Likewise, we are so used to communication that we are not aware that we are.
We live, eat, sleep, wear and breathe communication. If you doubt this, kindly answer these questions for me: why do people associate certain food to specific parts of the country or continent? If an individual has an examination to write, yet he or she sleeps for 18 hours in a day, what would you expect? If a job applicant attends a bank interview wearing a pair of ragged jeans, a T-shirt and a face cap facing backwards, what are the chances of he or she being employed? When you meet someone breathing hard and fast, what questions are you likely to ask that individual? I’m sure you will have different answers to these questions, but my point is that there is nothing you will ever do or say that would not be interpreted to mean something by observers. Making meanings out of life is how we survive and that is communication.
More often than not, it is our involuntary communication that hurts us or the people around us the most. Since we do not usually mean to send the messages, we do not screen them to determine their effects on others. It is when they react that we start to ‘playback’ our words or actions in our minds to find out what warranted those reactions, but by then, the deed would have been done.
It is, therefore, very risky to leave communication to chance. True, we cannot control everything we communicate but we sure can try. One of the major ways we communicate is through words. We can train ourselves to think before we speak and to skillfully present our ideas. We also have to learn not to speak if we do not have anything to say, or people will not take us seriously when we actually want to make valuable contributions. The ability to speak clearly and convincingly is one of the most valuable assets one can have.
Several people have spoken themselves into leadership and so can we. Effective communication is the power of influence!