The path to effective communication or why the other person keeps saying I DON’T UNDERSTAND!!!!

What we have here is a failure to communicate. It happens. Sadly, more often than we realize. We expect that our communication was clear and concise. The receiver says I didn’t understand. So we repeat it. They now and then say I didn’t understand. That loop goes on for a while. It is a failure to communicate.

In the IT, computer world a failure to communicate involves trouble shooting. What are you trying to connect to? Bluetooth devices normally are best troubleshot by removing the device and reconnecting. Wi-Fi is the same way. There are however, physical connections that you can’t remove and reconnect so you trouble shoot bent connectors and so on. Effectively it is pretty straight forward. Remove complexity, reduce to vanilla and determine what went wrong.

With communication it isn’t that simple. You enter a conversation with bias. In the words of John Boyd orientation. You see and hear from the position of your orientation. That drives what you observe and how you observe it. Your bias towards the information you are receiving. In that orientation (bias) you see and hear information. That seeing and hearing (observation) is limited by the orientation (bias) so you effectively are doomed from the start.

It is a never ending loop. In the software world you add a break, so you don’t end up with an infinite loop. In human communication we don’t really have a break. So instead we repeat ourselves and the person nods accepting information but in the end will say “I don’t understand” and they don’t. The frame of their orientation (bias) is outside the frame of the conversation.

The goal of Boyd’s system was to improve decisions. The reality of conversations is that many of them include decisions. Many however are informational and do not include decision points. Improving conversations is much tougher. First off because the concept of a conversation is two-way. Two-way defined as BOTH PARTIES PARTICPATING IN THE CONVERSATION. A lecture is a one-way communication structure. I tell you what you need to know. A conversation is a two-way interaction. More than nodding your head it is an interaction between two people.

Now, having been on one side of conversational lectures I do know the clear difference. Many people however, do not. So to again clarify the mud here, a lecture is one way. I tell you what you need to know. A really annoying lecture can be labeled pontification. A conversation is a two-way interaction.

Why am I continuing to discuss that point? Because if I am nodding my head and not speaking you are lecturing. If the intent of a conversation is to get to yes its either a lecture or sales. Conversations don’t get to yes. They may get to a course of action but they don’t get to yes. Managers have discussions that get to yes with their people. Leaders expound upon dreams and eventually even though it is a lecture format they get to yes.

First off, none of these styles are wrong. It is OK to lecture. It is ok to lead. It is ok to manage. All are acceptable. All have inputs and outputs and processes that impact them. They are known processes that we use and undertake every day. A conversation however may or may not be formal. It is always two-way.

Over the years I have published a number of communication patterns and anti-patterns. I have identified my own anti-pattern and while I wish I could say I have solved the mystery of what triggers my anti-pattern I haven’t. I do however know what the anti-pattern is. I know how I act when it starts and I can start stopping it. It won’t happen that I am able to stop the next 10 times, but at least I am aware that I am doing it now.

We are only as strong as what we can share.


Communications Lecturer