There are generally three types of communicators in the world. Those that have been ‘taught how’ and try for that, those that have no idea but fair decently in their efforts, and those that either don’t try, or are absolutely terrible. I am the middle one.
Local Time|1320hr, 2 March 2013
Drink| Au Lait
Exhaustion Level| Moderate
It would seam that real life is more important to me than the virtual reality one. Go figure? Been busy working, building a studio, moving my horse, and all sorts of real-world things.
For today though, I wanted to wax philosophical about the concept of communication.
There are generally three types of communicators in the world. Those that have been ‘taught how’ and try for that, those that have no idea but fair decently in their efforts, and those that either don’t try, or are absolutely terrible. I am the middle one. I have always had a knack for presenting my ideas well and understandably and listening and interpreting effectively. This extends to about ninety percent of my communications, with five percent gray area between that and the remaining five percent, which is utter failure. The key to failed communication is not taking it personally, because largely it will be misunderstanding, or simply a difference of perspectives. Let’s dig into that a bit.
All throughout the modern world we have this stigma about making assumptions and inferences. Demographic profiling at airports is considered bigoted and primitive, body scanners are considered invasive, certain words are simply not acceptable. Which ones I agree with and don’t agree with are not really relevant to my point though.
We navigate our world on the constructs of assumptions. The politically correct cultural programming in you might tell you that is nonsense, but think about it a bit longer. When you walk up to a door, your brain makes assumptions about its function based on the shape and type in a matter of seconds, and from there you proceed to reach for the knob, push on the touch-plate, or expect it to open automatically. When you reach for a wine glass you assume it is, at least in present day, made of glass, and probably fragile. When arriving to a four way stop in your car, you assume that there is a system in place that defines who gets to cross first. These are all culturally defined, and material-quality based assumptions. If I told you that the red cars get to cross first, your wine glass is unbreakable, and the door requires you to sing it open, you would laugh or scoff, telling me I was wrong. What if I was right?
You might be thinking that these are not assumptions, but simply facts of reality, but you’d be wrong. Some sliding doors, such as in German and Northern Italian trains, require you to touch a small circle on the glass. Some experimental steels are as transparent as crystal; you’re probably right about the four way stops… in this country. The point is, based on standard practice and seemingly constant realities, we make assumptions about our environment based on a system of averaging and repetition. your brain catalogs everything you do, and formulates records of trends and common facts, so that when you enter into a situation you can observe, understand, and react efficiently. Did you know there is a condition that inhibits the brain from ‘categorizing’ information into packets? People with this condition do not perceive a glass of water, but instead see every curve, shape, shade, color, and line, and must actively recognize it as a glass of water. Conversations in a restaurant blend together as the brain does not distinguish between ‘our conversation’ and the rest of them. This is, simply put, a lack of cognitive assumption and stereotyping. Can you imagine a life where every single object was observed by its miniscule details and not the entire object? When people suggest that we should not make assumptions and steretyopes, while they’re attempting to be respectful, this is the reality they’re contradicting, that we are designed to make assumptions.
Furthermore, to relate back to communication, we also work entirely on perspective. Each of us has a unique perspective that is nearly impossible to translate exactly to someone else. The organism of our being will generally function the same as the next. Color frequencies are standard facts of science, and smells are chemically standard, but how our body interprets these bits of information is unique to each of us. your idea of cherry red might in the ultimate reality be slightly different than mine, as your body receives and interprets the information. Smells may be received differently by different noses. This is very likely a strong basis for the differences in preference and favorites across a species.
Assumption and perspective differences are factual realities about the way we live, and therefor effect the way we communicate. the result is that the people that aren’t good at communicating might just have different assumption systems. the folks that are intuitively good at communication are probably able to infer and at least partially realize the assumption and perspective systems of others. And the folks that are ‘learning to communicate accurately and perfectly’ are really fighting an up-hill battle in their attempt to communicate perfectly. Lets look at the process more specifically.
Communication is, simply put, the transmission of one person’s idea to the other. Person A, Robert, has an idea. He wants to relate it to Person B, Patricia. He must first formulate that idea into an internal dialog. A descriptive conversation in his head. This is because ideas are generally stored abstractly, and in many parts of the brain, and need to be collected up and sorted in a way. From there, he translates that inner dialog into verbal speech. Patricia hears this and then herself translates it back into her own internal dialog, which is then ‘digested’ by her brain into an idea. That puts us at 4 transfers, at the very least, and as no translation is perfect, there is some deterioration. Imagine translating a word between four people speaking four different languages, then giving that new word to a new set of 4 people and translating it back to the original language. Chances are it won’t be the same word, possibly not even close. This is because every language (which includes internal dialog and ‘ideas’) is a perspective based, experience driven culture of it’s own. The escimos have over a dozen names for snow, because they experience it in many forms. If you gave them all to a person in Honduras, they wouldn’t be able to translate each of them without using a hundred extra words at least!
Let’s assume that each transition of the message between Robert and Patricia only has a 90% accuracy. Obviously translation between the different layers is different for each person, and different again for each pair of communicators, so 90% accuracy is a very broad generalization. Two people that understand each other well might have 95% efficiency. Two people that often misunderstand each other might be as low as 60%. With 4 steps, that’s 90% loss EACH TIME. The result is that by the time Robert’s idea is now translated into an idea for Patricia, it is at 65.6% accuracy! That is a massive loss. Obviously some of that inaccuracy will still translate to an agreement in the real world, as it is perspective based. Robert’s idea of olive green might be different than Patricia’s, but if shown a color card they’d both call it Olive green. This is because language is the averaging and agreement of definitions of a community’s internal dialogs. regardless of whether the color they see in their mind is the same, they both call it green.
Now, let’s assume the same people have a 95% efficiency between idea and internal dialog, and an 80% efficiency between internal dialog and spoken word. This is probably a bit more accurate, as most of us can ‘think about our ideas’ fairly accurately, but often language lacks the ability to cover every minute detail. Thinking of the old adage, If a picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is a thousand pictures, and an idea is a complex network of pictures, words, and videos, than you can easily see how complex a genuine and complete idea really is. Rationally speaking, there is no spoken or written language that can effectively communicate a complete idea in a way that will translate perfectly to another person. With these numbers, the quality of idea transfer is only 57.8%.
Regardless of the specific numbers used, you can see that even the ‘highest quality of communication’ will never relate an idea perfectly. The implications are that the folks that communicate poorly are probably not that far off of par. It also means that striving for ‘perfect communication’ by the use of specific dialog and style of speech is literally impossible. The best we can hope to do is maintain patience, work it out, and send ideas back and forth until the information is agreed upon. And even then, we may be less in agreement than we thought. For my part, I generally don’t take these failed communications personally, and simply try to work it out in a different way. If all else fails, sticking with people that you understand really well is a good back up plan.
It is not just another pet. It is a pack-mate that isn’t quite ready to be your pack-mate yet unable to leave by circumstance, to whom you are responsible, for whom you are responsible, and by whom you will find yourself weighing your worth.