For a few years I worked in a temporary staffing office, where the majority of my employees were Spanish speaking. Equipped with the vast vocabulary amassed in my 10th grade Spanish class, I attempted conversations with the applicants. I found myself to be lacking, so I began taking an evening class at a local high school. I would show up for class early and quiz the teacher on how to you ask “Can you lift 40 pounds?” and “First, second, or third shift?” I never could get the hang of the conjugation of verbs, however. I would call employees and tell them that they were to go to work the next day and gain agreement. Then I would be surprised that they would not be there. After several tries, I spoke to my Spanish teacher only to discover that I had been telling them “I work tomorrow,” not “You work tomorrow.” I was failing at information transfer.
Eisenberg, Goodall, and Tretheway define communication as much more than information transfer, but it does begin there. No matter how creative you are in your communication, if you aren’t speaking the language of the listener, they won’t get it. It’s easy to blame others for not listening and their resulting inaction, but perhaps we need to figure out our part in the miscommunication. “Typical communication problems include information overload, distortion, and ambiguity” (p. 29). Are you guilty of any of these?
Information overload: When someone is listening, do you drown them with the fire hose?
Perhaps those in need of information cannot handle the amount, rate of speed, or complexity of the information you are sending. Minimize the points, slow it down, and speak their language. Ask yourself, would the average person understand everything that I just said without a)going to sleep, b)having a seizure, or c)requiring a thesaurus?
Distortion: When someone is listening, do you get drowned out?
Read the posting on semantic noise below (where the meaning is unclear to the receiver), but also consider physical and contextual distortion. If I want my husband to hear me, I need to ask him to turn down the television. The physical sound creates a distortion in our communication. Contextual distortion occurs when my perspective is different than the listener’s. For example, when I say “Father” in reference to God, do I need to put the fatherhood of God into context for those who have a negative reaction to the word father?
Ambiguity: When someone is listening, do they drown in abstractions?
There is an acronym in sales called WIIFM. Marketers have learned to make certain their appeals answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” This is what the listener is asking themselves. We cannot prescribe the answer for everyone in every situation, but we can speak in an unambiguous way so that the listener can figure it out for themselves. What are they to do with this information?
Creative communication requires that the sender process these things long before the receiver can understand. Information transfer is the most basic component of communication, but we cannot discuss higher theories of organizational communication without working on this most basic of ideas. Have you found information overload, distortion, or ambiguity to be issues in your own communication, and how have you worked to solve these challenges? Or how will you?
Eisenberg, E. M., Goodall, H. L. Jr., & Tretheway, A. (2007). Organizational communciation: Balancing creativity and constraint (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins.