Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What we have here is a failure to communicate

I have written before about the need for structure in order to be able to communicate effectively. This is rather common sense more than anything else. You need a system of information exchange which is understood by the involved parties in order for the communication to carry value. There is no value in two people talking on the phone, if one speaks only one language, and the other one only speaks another. There may be a tone to interpret, or some common / similar words, but that again is part of a common system of information exchange.

Now I use the term “system” for a specific reason. A system is a pattern of behavior with inputs and outputs. If you have an understanding of the system, you can predict, to a certain level of confidence, what the outcome will be given certain inputs. In the context of information exchange, you can predict the outcome of communicating a message, if you have sufficient knowledge of what information was requested, and how the information fits with the reason you are communicating. Generally your prediction is that the information is understood and used for specific and agreed reasons.

Now this is where things get more interesting. You probably chuckled reading “understood and used for specific and agreed reasons”. That is the fundamental assumption, and yet it could not be further from the truth. You assume people understand the measurement units, the abbreviations, and the set of classification you apply to data. Yet you know, at the same breath that there is likely to be misinterpretations, misrepresentations and a need to verify and correct some data manually.

That really should not be the case.

Information exchange is only as effective as the compliance to its governing system. The less people are educated in a language such as English, the less two people from different cultures will be able to communicate effectively even if they both speak English. How much time do you spend learning the basics of your primary language? Usually longer than your first 10 years of your life if not longer. So why are we surprised that communication breaks down so often? It is sometimes related to the channel and method, but more often than not – it is because of information service contract failure.

(To be continued...)

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