Last week, my wife and I were vacationing in South America and due to our adventurous spirits, we found ourselves in an anxiety producing situation one day. It started when we decided to head out to a village in the mountains that we had read about in National Geographic where a school was located that taught local women the trade of weaving, using local Alpaca wool. We hopped in the first taxi that stopped because he nodded when we mentioned the name of the village and he quoted us a very reasonable price. However, we quickly realized that the limited amount of Spanish that my wife speaks was no help in communicating with our driver because he spoke zero English and his Spanish was heavily influenced with a local dialect. What this meant for us was that there was no way to confirm understanding of what either party was communicating. However, this did not stop attempts at dialogue from continually being made. There were lots of head nods, “yeses” and “síes” but no one knew if the other understood. This frustration was exacerbated after twice the amount of time passed that our hotel said it would take to reach the village and we were still winding through the mountains.
As I was observing attempts at communication by both parties, I thought about what happens in the hectic corporate world that many of us spend 1/3rd of our lives in….and that I was currently enjoying being “unplugged” from. I realized that thankfully, time or personal agenda constraints can be easier to overcome than language barriers when it comes to checking for and confirming understanding of what is communicated. I am not saying that it is “easy” to do this at work, but if we neglect to confirm understanding, either by the sender or receiver of the communication, not only do we risk accomplishing nothing, but we also risk undesired impacts or outcomes…like potentially being lost in the mountains of the southern hemisphere, or worse!
As I was analyzing the situation, I was reminded of the Transactional Model of Communication (see below).
(the above picture is from the National Communication Association )
As this model shows, messages are defined by the meaning the recipient adds to them when decoding what has been communicated by the sender. This points to the need to make the extra effort to validate or check for understanding of what is being communicated in all aspects of our daily lives. Of course, with the limited time in our schedules, brevity is of paramount importance…so remember to choose your words wisely to reduce the time needed for validation!
I quickly snapped back to reality as our taxi came to a stop directly in front of the school we saw in National Geographic. While I was grateful for the opportunity this experience gave me to reflect on Transactional Communication, I was even more delighted that somehow in this situation, the illusion Shaw spoke of in communication actually turned out to be reality…though if asked to explain how, I wouldn’t know how to answer!
QUESTION: What have you found to help or hinder clarifying/validating understanding in communication? Let us know be leaving a “reply” below.
Written by Jonathan Eisler, Director of Organizational Services.