Tuesday, June 14, 2005



Communication 101

Baby babble expands exponentially into language. Rarely, language skills develop to amazing mastery. Rarely do communication skills develop very well at all. All human interaction, all society, all relationships, all activities that involve more than one of us require communication. We spend a fair bit of our informal and formal education learning language skills, but we spend no time learning to communicate effectively. Communication majors in college are actually media majors, learning how to manipulate the minds of the masses with communication media tools. No one studies good communication.

Here is a primer on communication. I have been working on this for a long time and I still do not have it all right. But it is a start.....

There are three type of communication: (1) news, (2) instruction, and (3) enrollment. All communication can be thus classified and in so doing, better understood.

NEWS tells us something, but does not tell us how to do anything nor does it ask anything of us. NEWS is descriptive. It may be valid or invalid, true or false, biased or objective (if such a thing exists), valuable or worthless, entertaining or boring. Most communication is NEWS.

INSTRUCTION tells us how to do something. It teaches us but it does it does not ask us to do anything. INSTRUCTION may be accurate or flawed, appropriate or bizarre, easy or hard, straight-forward or distorted.

ENROLLMENT asks us to do something and we can do it (ENROLL) or not. There are three distinct types of enrollment: (1) invitation, (2) request, and (3) demand.

INVITATIONS ask, but they do not expect a response, and there is no negotiation if there is a response,and there is no consequence based upon the response. YES, NO, MAYBE, or even SILENCE are possible responses to an invitation.

REQUESTS ask and expect a response, and a specific response is desired. There is no consequence to the response, but YES or NO may precipitate NEGOTIATION if the response is other than the desired response. NEGOTIATION may comprise REQUESTS for further information (NEWS or INSTRUCTION), clarification of conditions (MORE NEWS), or COUNTEROFFERS. COUNTEROFFERS are REQUESTS as well.

DEMANDS ask and expect only one possible answer. There is a consequence if any answer other than the one answer is received. An overt DEMAND has a clear and overt consequence for failure to provide the proper response ( a covert DEMAND has a hidden consequence and is often disguised as a REQUEST or even as an INVITATION). A true DEMAND requires the position or authority to fulfill the consequence. Without this power, a DEMAND is a THREAT. Covert DEMANDS and THREATS are perversions of healthy communication. I mention them not as instruction in communication but as illustrations of unhealthy communication.

Frequently, REQUESTS and DEMANDS ask of us future actions and deeds and behavior. If the positive or negative ("will do" or "won't do") does not happen immediately, but will be fulfilled some time later, we offer a marker for the future compliance or completion. This "future marker" is called a PROMISE.

A PROMISE requires a TRUST. TRUST is the value that is ascribed to the PROMISE by the one holding it.

TRUST comes in three flavors: (1) blind, (2) transferred, and (3) earned.

BLIND TRUST is a gift that the holder gives to the promiser, based on nothing but faith. The holder has no reason to expect the promise to be kept, just a hope. If the promise is broken, then the promiser loses nothing, for they had nothing at stake. The holder loses faith.

TRANSFERRED TRUST is trust by association. An office or a profession may deserve transferred trust. A promise from a trusted source may recommend a transfer of trust. If the promise is broken, the office, profession, or trusted source loses the holders trust.

EARNED TRUST is accrued by fulfilling promises. Big promises successfully kept earn big trust, failures lose trust. The holder stores earned trust in the "trust bank". Profound betrayals may break the bank.

That is all for today class. Next week there will be a review and possibly a spot quiz! Be prepared!

Monday, June 06, 2005


"I am sorry" -- the technology of apology

Communication skills are learned. Unfortunately, we all learn them from the world around us, where communication is far from careful or clean. We all end up as ineffective communicators.

Lesson One - Apology

An effective apology has three distinct elements:

(1) recognition of the damage
(2) expression of remorse
(3) repair of the damage

The first element is usually the easiest. If someone yelps, "ow!" then we know we something has occurred to cause pain. If we are told, "You hurt me!" then we should have a clue. Occasionally the hurt is more subtle and the damage is hidden or delayed. Our error may have been one of omission and it is later that we find, "Yesterday was our anniversary!" In any case, that light bulb moment occurs when we know that we are at cause in some disruption of the way things should be.

If we resist that moment or defend against it or deny our culpability, then the process cannot begin. The most difficult recognition is when we are held at fault, but we feel innocent as accused. It is still possible to RECOGNIZE that something occurred that has caused a breakdown or injury.

Step two belongs to our superego. Remorse should be natural. If we have caused a problem we, naturally. should feel bad. If we cause harm and do not feel remorse then we are wired wrong. If we are wired wrong then we have far greater problems than communication. The technology of step two is to EXPRESS our remorse. "I'm sorry" is the standard shorthand for "I hurt because I hurt you" or "I truly regret messing things up". Succinctly and effectively having communicating our actual remorse is the key.

Step three is two fold:

(a) cleaning up the mess
(b) preventing recurrences

After we have effectively communicated our sorrow for the problems we have caused, we must set out to repair or clean-up the the situation. Sometimes this is easy, other times it is difficult. It may be impossible to help if we are offering in the face of anger, "Haven't you done enough damage already??" Often the damage is irreparable. If unfixable, acknowledgment of that state is mandatory. If damage control or repair or clean-up is possible, jump in and do it, to the maximum of resources and abilities.

Whether or not repair is feasible, setting up systems or learning new methods or skills, or altering behaviors such that recurrences of the problem are eliminated or minimized is the last stage of apology. Ask, "What must be done so this won't happen again?" and then act upon the answer.

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