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Communication

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said,

but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

                                          ~ Robert McCloskey

Well, that pretty much sums up the art of Communication. You may think you’re speaking clearly and leaving no room for interpretation or confusion, but the truth remains, that what you said is sometimes not what someone else heard. So, how do you communicate effectively and make sure you each understand what the other person is saying and meaning? Clarifying questions!! Ask the other person if they understand not just what you’re saying, but if they also get the meaning of your message. If necessary, ask them to repeat it back to you to make sure you’re both riding the same bus.

Do you remember the concept of “necessary but not sufficient” from your High School chemistry class? Oxygen is necessary to have fire, but it is not sufficient. That is to say that you cannot have fire without oxygen, but just because you have oxygen does not mean will also have fire – it is a necessary component but it is not sufficient. You also need other contributing factors. Along the reasoning of that concept, to communicate effectively being heard is necessary, but it is not sufficient. The meaning of your message must also be understood.

Just hoping or expecting that others will understand you is not enough.

“If you loved me then you’d just know”

Wow! Sometime we hear those words and really can’t believe someone just said them. Right up there with “trying to change people” to better suit our own world, believing that, "If you loved me, then you would just know" what I’m thinking is ludicrous. How can anyone know what you’re thinking if you don’t tell them?

Although Communication can take many forms, it is usually found in a dialogue between two or more people that takes the form of a casual exchange of words, a discussion of deeper issues, or an argument founded in a passionate disagreement. The casual exchange of words probably dominates the world of Communication as it represents the bulk of times we interact with others. Discussions of deeper issues, is a great way to share thoughts, ideas, opinions, and philosophies and arguments can be a great medium of discussion. We often attach a negative stigma to the word argue though, as it usually denotes a heated or enraged discussion where people throw verbal punches and push buttons to infuriate their adversary. By definition though, an argument is simply a debate or a quarrel characterized by passion, but that does not have to be a bad thing. Attorneys “argue” their cases in court. Sales people “argue” the value and the merits of their products and services in a sales presentation. Boyfriends and girlfriends, and husbands and wives “argue” in a relationship over all kinds of issues. But as long as you’re fighting fairly and keeping a cool head, then there is nothing wrong with classifying your passionate discussion as an argument.


“You want to change people’s opinion … give them new facts”

Learning to discuss issues and even argue ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and philosophies requires just a few simple rules. And principle among them is the requirement that you must first know and understand your counterpart’s position. Only then can you effectively present your opinion with any authority. To understand their side, you must listen. After all, it’s very difficult to learn anything with your mouth open. Learning requires the intake of new information and talking only releases information you already have. When it is your turn to speak though, it is always best to let the virtues of your argument speak for themselves and not attack your opponent’s position with verbal punches or button pushing just to get them all riled up. Fight fair if you’re in an argument with your partner and don’t bring up issues that have already passed. The key there is to deal with all issues as they arise, or at least as quickly as you can. It is not always feasible to discuss an issue between you at the moment it occurs, and it may also not be the best time because there might be too much passion surrounding the topic. In those times, or even if you just feel an argument is spiraling out of control or just not getting anywhere, just try to diffuse the situation and agree to pick it up at a better time and place or after you’ve both calmed down. Although learning to walk away from an argument that is going nowhere except “out of control” is a great way to keep your head, it is still very difficult to accomplish while the "stuff" is hitting the fan.



Communication - Objective vs Subjective

Being a History Major in college was not all about simply memorizing names, dates and historical events. They told us right out of the gate that it is about teaching us how to take a stand on an issue and then effectively argue our position based on the facts and the historical data as we understood it. The first thing to recognize is whether the topic of discussion is Obective or Subjective

Objective arguments are founded in actual existence or reality and have concrete facts to back them up. They are literally unquestionable. “Is the blue bicycle red or blue?” “Was John F. Kennedy assassinated in 1963?” Objective arguments are difficult to dispute and therefore virtually impossible to argue because they are closed-ended subjects with definitive answers. 

Subjective arguments, on the other hand, are mental concepts tolerating varied opinions that can be viably supported by various interpretations and understandings of the facts available. Stating that the Civil War would have ended more quickly and with far fewer casualties on both sides if General Lee had commanded the Northern Troops is a bold statement that implies General Lee was a better strategist and superior commander than was General Grant and arguments could be made to support that theory. But others could argue equally well the opposing side that Grant was the superior leader. To argue either position though, you must first know the facts available to support both arguments and then develop a clear understanding of what each side believes. Only from that position of understanding what your opponent believes can you then argue your position with any authority.

Carry this concept of listening to and comprehending your rival’s position into the discussions and arguments in which you engage with your partner and you will both find far greater success in working out your differences. Finding the patience to listen first may also effect the result of altering your opinion on the matter being discussed anyway. I can’t count the number of times I was steadfast in what I believed only to have my eyes opened to a new reality by simply listening first.

Also remember that sometimes:

“You can’t see the forest for the trees!”

When you’re stuck in the middle it can be very difficult to see any other opinions, theories or options. Years ago I was reversing the door on a refrigerator and after taking all the required parts out and moving the door over, I was attempting to fit a bracket into place. In the reversed position the bracket was now turned over and the screw was blocked from access with a screwdriver, I couldn’t see how to get the screw back into pace to secure the door. Just then, my roommate walked by and asked how everything was going and I told him of my predicament. He then simply asked, “Even with the door swung all the way open?” I was so caught up in the moment of my task that I completely overlooked the simple solution right before my eyes. I “couldn’t see the forest for the trees”.

Remember the prime-time drama back in the 90’s called “Melrose Place” about the thrirty-somethings living in the same apartment building?

It really is amazing from where you can find life’s wisdom when you walk through it with your eyes and ears open to all that it has to offer.

There was a story line where Alison was having a relationship with a married man and was confused as to what to do. While in a discussion with Jo she was expressing her confusion and frustration when she said something to the effect of, “If this were one of my friends, I could tell them exactly what to do, but I just can’t see it for myself.” How true does that statement ring for all of us? How many times can you see clearly the best solution to any dilemma when you’re not the one actually living it? But while you’re wrapped up in the middle of it you just, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”.

Understanding that concept up front will help to open your eyes to the possibility that maybe someone else just might have a perspective that differs from yours.

Of course, there is always the safe fall-back in any discussion that cannot be resolved to simply “agree to disagree”. There is no harm in understanding all sides of an argument and still holding true to the belief that yours is the best opinion. But even that does not mean that your opponent’s position is necessarily wrong – remember that we’re talking about subjective topics where there can be a varied array of possible opinions.


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