Power FailureSome Reasons for Failure in the Power of Communication.
The power of communication is almost a hackneyed phrase nowadays. Few who watched the CNN and BBC World news reporting during the invasion of Iraq, would deny the effectiveness for, good or evil, of fast, factual and feverish media reporting. Nor can the world forget the power wielded by Adolf Hilter among other dictators, and more hopefully by Barak Obama through the use of gripping oratory.
From hieroglyphics to heliograph, smoke signals to semaphore, from tom-toms to telegraph,
billboards to body language and Morse code to email, the association between communication and the development of civilisation is well established.
However these and many more are merely the means of communication. They are not communication itself. The power of communication is a fragile thing because it can be obstructed by pitfalls in our patter or by the perils of perception.
Yes, both speaker and listener are frequently to blame for what amounts to a power failure in the conveyance of meaning.
It was George Bernard Shaw who said "What we need to day is a better mouthtrap"
Until recently President George Bush was known for his hilarious communication blunders. The media feasted on the amusing gaffs he perpetrated in public appearances. He has a reputation for verbal contortion, linguistic gymnastics and accidental coining of words. We are told he invented words like "mential","tacular" and "bariffs" off the cuff. He has shredded syntax and vocabulary, testing the limits of the English language.
No one who heard those words can remember if they ever did get his meaning or if so, what that meaning was. Was he sending a coded message to Osama? The arrival of his effective speech writer just in time for the war in Iraq, helps to illustrate the point.
Take an example from the boardroom. Large corporations often refer to a voltage or power loss that seems to afflict communication and consequential implementation of decisions. The directors emerge from the meeting fired up with motivation to activate winning strategic decisions. As the message filters down the successive echelons there is a power loss, often of such proportions that almost nothing happens. Perhaps this is the explanation for the vast chasm between the words of our politicians and the actions we patiently wait for.
I have just enough time to remind you of a handful of typical causes of voltage loss in communication.
A foreign speaker like Pavarotti can communicate despite his Italian accent because he has something to say and does it well. He was once asked why all the ladies flock to him and replied: "Becausa ofa my extravaganta baudy!"
Debates on the subject in which some bend over backwards to make excuses for poor articulation intending to be liberal about bad English, pay little attention to the level of actual communication.
Speaking telephonically to the average employee today is fun or frustration whichever you choose. Choosing the fun route, I recently said to an unintelligible telesales caller, I'm sorry I don't get the gist of what you are trying to sell, perhaps you would send me an e-mail in your patois and I could have it translated.
Assuming your articulation is reasonable then the next hurdle is Word selection. Using obscure words or highly technical buzz phrases shows off your superior knowledge but fails to communicate. It is like using incorrect plug points when you want to tap into a source of electrical power. Powerful and picturesque words can be simple. I once attended a fashion show in Soweto run by a large clothing chain. One after another pint sized ten models strutted their sashay. Then a extra large bulging outsize thumped her way down the walk. The crowd howled and shrieked: “Hau the mighty mafuta makes mincemeat of them all!'
And what of the importance of Presentation? Carefully selected wording alone may not convey the message. The electrician says, sorry there no Spark when he detects no power flow.
An informal poll taken last year indicated that one of the greatest challenges business people have at meetings is to stay awake. In fact one cynic suggested that he would stop attending if it were not for the amusing faux-pas, errors and slip-ups contributed by both by the chairman and delegates.
A serious mistake is to Ignore the intelligence of the audience. Talking over the heads of your listeners may be ego boosting for you if you don't care whether you are communicating or not. It's a bit like trying to use software incompatible to your hardware. In fact communication with computers can provide a clue in matching your style and level to the hearers.
An IT expert speaking on direct speech communication with the computers pointed this out by quoting two sentences which could baffle present day P.C.'s
"Time flies like an arrow" and "Fruit flies like an apple'.
In performance management, specifying exactly what you mean preferably in measurable or quantifiable terms, is far more effective than permitting discussion in phraseology such as ' quite a lot', 'things are picking up'. When you say 'mostly' do you really mean more than 50% or are you obfuscating?
Surveys have established that 60% of work problems arise not from poor training or bad work conditions but from poor feedback on performance.
Let me illustrate poor feedback with a story about an American father who came home from work to find his wife weeping. 'What's the matter honey". The wife replied tearfully that the neighbours refuse to let their children visit the kids next door because of their swearing. Father said well I don't like the neighbours anyway. Wife continued to cry and on enquiry said the Pastor had phoned to say Johnny and Mary were no longer welcome at Sunday school because of their foul language. Father said 'well I'm sure we can find a better church anyway'.
Wife continued to cry, he asked why. She said the kids had been expelled from school for bad language. "Don't worry I'll handle it in the morning" said Father."
Next morning at breakfast with a range of cereals on the table, Father said "Well Johnny what are you going to have?" Johnny replied "I think I'll have some of those “goddamn Kellogg’s coorrflakes". Father hit him in the face and Johnny fell to the floor writhing in surprise and confusion, nursing his cut lip.
Misusing verbal power is, of course, a deliberate cause of failure in communication. Such action is usually aimed at point-scoring. For example Rules of Order, invented to facilitate order and democracy, at meetings are just as useful for throwing confusion among the opposition.
A case in point might be where a proposal contains a series of sub-proposals, you might say "Point of order Mr Chairman, (or chepessen if you are politically correct), it would be helpful to agree each sub-point in seriatum instead on en bloc.' The chairman does not know what you mean, so he agrees. Everyone is stunned. Confusion reigns. You're in the driving seat!
The current vogue of Politically Correct speech which supposedly sets out to be euphemistic out of sensitivity to the underdog or minority, so often fails to communicate the intended or indeed any message at all.
Patting the dog on the head while telling him he is hygienically challenged is what electrical engineers would call a short circuit of power.
P.C. speak wants to brainwash us into having to deliver a special ration of sensitivity to every conceivable group, (including groups which can't conceive).
We have to perform a linguistic egg-dance, afraid to call a spade a spade.
A `dead man' becomes a `person of male gender in a non-viable condition'. America's `poor' are now called `fiscal under-achievers'.
As the brain laundering machine of political correctness gains traction, gullible people are accepting the doctrine so avidly that it matters not what nonsense we speak as long as we copy the trend. Even what little logic there is in some of the P.C. phraseology, is occasionally jettisoned by naively parroting the 'newspeak'.
For example, in our rush to avoid referring to a female presiding officer as "Mr Chairman" we often address her somewhat inconsistently as, "madam chairperson". 'Person' is supposedly correct because it is political heresy to emphasise her gender. So if you accept that piece of brain-laundering, why pull the plug on it by using 'madam' as well?.
A young man whose car had broken down near a girls convent, knocked on the door of the dormitory seeking help. A pretty student invited him to her room to use the phone. The mother superior just happened to walk in at that moment and was about to remind the student of the rule about no male friends on campus and the need to avoid temptation, when the student said quickly : 'No Mother, there's nothing to worry about - his battery's flat!'
Any of these faults can inhibit the voltage of your communication. I hope that these thoughts will help you to keep your batteries charged, so that your listeners are illuminated, will feel the tingle of the spark and their hair may be stand on end, as you deliver the full potential of this power!