The Paradox of Communication

By Chris Chittenden

Technology companies spend a lot of money telling us that mobile phones, computers and so on are the answer to our communication problems. In a way, they have redefined the word "communication" so that many people believe that if they get better technology, they will get better communication. We do not want to denigrate the value of technology in providing accessibility and easier means of conversing with each other, but we do want to point out that there is a vast difference between the medium and the act of communicating.

It is one of the great paradoxes of the world today that the technology by which we can communicate with each other is improving at a spectacular rate yet the quality of the actual communication between human beings does not seem to be moving forward to any extent or may even be degenerating. Whenever employee surveys are carried out, communication is more often than not one of the top three issues. For many people, their most intimate relationships do not last and the reason they often give is a lack of communication. The generation gap still seems to exist. Why is it that we can have so many effective mediums for communication, but still not feel that we can communicate or are communicated with?

In our view, the answer to this question lies in the interpretation of communication. Most people hold to the view that communication relates to the passing of information. It is not uncommon in recent times to hear people in the office say that communication would be better if we only had e-mail. Yet when e-mail arrives, they have another medium to communicate through but still do not feel communicated with. For us, communication does not lies in the medium, it lies in the relationships we have with others.

We communicate with others within a social context. In other words, we communicate with others to take care of our concerns and to build and maintain relationships with others. Communication is successful when we assess that others take the time to listen and understand what we say and then they act in a way that addresses our spoken concerns.

The key to successful communication lies only partly in the medium, it primarily lies in our ability to effectively use language. We need to be able to listen to others and to speak to that listening. We need to recognise and manage the moods and emotions that are in play such that they will enhance what is said. We need to be aware of the language of the body. Not just the "body language" cues, but also our posture and presence. Perhaps it is ironic that we have all this fantastic new technology at our fingertips, but that we still cannot effectively use one of the oldest human technologies - language.

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© 2000 Chris Chittenden