Friday, November 19, 2010

I love Smores

A new, more modern, ‘21th century model’ for communication comes in response to the repeated failures of a model that the authors of this article wish to outline and make obsolete. The previous method merely involved firing a stream of information towards the target (this was discussed my September blog: the Effect of Communication on People). It is assumed that if a message is sent then that message will be received by the intended recipient unless there is some sort of interference. It does not take into account the telephone effect or ‘getting lost in translation’. This phrase does not have to mean a literal translation of languages, but a translation of ideas and perspectives. What the sender knows and understands to be true, fact, and the norm may not be the understanding for whom they are intending to communicate.

In several of my elementary school English classes, I was taught to write directions on how to do something: a simple task, like how to make s’mores. The rough draft was simple: Put the marshmallow over the fire until its black or dark brown on the outside, put on top of chocolate, and place both in between graham crackers. Sounds right? Not good enough. In communication, we must remember that those who were are communicating with might not have the same background of understanding marshmallow/chocolate/graham crackers. To work with these minute obstacles, we have to learn to be more specific and sensitive to others perspectives in order to explain something best. Indeed, the issue might be a simple as: what is marshmallow? The commonly sold version in stores is not Kosher or Halal, that blocks out a sizable portion of the prospective participatory population in Muslims and Jews who keep Kosher and Halal. In order to accommodate these people, you must explain what marshmallows are, and where to find gelatin-less, Kosher/Halal versions to use. Additionally, they would need to know that graham crackers come in a box, and that needs to be opened, and that within the box is a bag, and that needs to be opened. Depending on the brand, size might be an issue; this same level of detailed explanation needs to be repeated for the chocolate, and the marshmallows. What do we heat the marshmallows with? What if I’m allergic to chocolate?

The authors attributed failures the so-called War on Terror to a failed communication model. The model that they proposed however does not have to be its own entity; it can be incorporated into the old model. (As we well know, people trained in liberal arts fields are adverse to big changes, so it’s probably best to try an incorporation method rather than something brand-new, unless they only did it for being recognized for doing something new and special). The four principles of the model are
• Deemphasize control and embrace complexity
• replace repetition with variation
• consider disruptive moves
• expect and plan for failure

The first three are very similar; they embrace complexity and seek to look at the issue from a broader lens rather than straight on. The last point is always good to keep on hand. Lower your expectations.

So what did we learn here? Communicate with people as if they are not you. And lower your expectations, because if someone does not want to make s’mores, you’ve wasted your time.

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