Stephen Hawking, a world-renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist, once explained that the reason for the exponential evolution of humans to intelligent beings can be attributed to the creation of language. Language gave us the ability to transfer valuable information to survive and thrive in different types of environment.
Language, in all its forms – verbal, non-verbal, written, and symbolic – has become the foundation of how we communicate with each other. However, language is just one of the ingredients to effective communication. Agreeing on the same medium (e.g. using British English) is one part of the process, but understanding context, non-verbal cues, body language, and feedback, are fundamental points that also require practice and development.
To understand how effective communication happens, let’s first understand the structure of the process.
MODELS OF COMMUNICATION
There are three main models of communication.
The first model, called the Linear Model, is unidirectional whereby the message comes from the sender and is then accepted by a receiver. In this model, a sender encodes a message (verbal or written) and sends the message through a channel (e.g., the radio) to a recipient, who interprets the message. We can say that the receiver of the message can either be an active or passive listener.1 The sender may not know whether their message has been received.
The second model of communication is the Transactional Model.
As seen in the figure above, the direction is two-way, wherein the sender can also become a receiver. Feedback is taken into account, which helps build or direct the conversation. Breakdown in communication can happen when both parties play the same role at the same time, meaning, both are sending but not receiving the messages or feedback.
The third model of communication is the Interactional Model.
This model takes into account new channels for communication like social media, emails, and other types of interactive broadcasting. What makes it different from the second model is the delayed arrival of feedback. There is also the possibility of the receiver to be unresponsive as well as the element of anonymity of both parties.
These three models represent and describe the general way we communicate and share information. But, there is a fourth model that’s worth reflecting, and that is the Dance’s Helical Spiral of Communication.
This model resonates with our past discussions about examining early childhood experiences that affect the way we react to the outside world. The infinite helix represents the dynamic correlation of our past behaviours with our current patterns, in which, the way we send and receive messages is a result of what we learned as children. But, during communication, we are also able to examine present forces at work, edit our perceptions, and then change the way we encode and interpret messages. The helix is continually growing, and therefore, evolutionary.3
(We will further expand and reflect on Dance’s model this month, as we dive deeper into the topic of effective communication. Stay tuned…)
These four models are proof of how intricate communication can be. There is always a possibility of disruption and factors such as culture, cognitive level, emotional intelligence, and mental state also contribute to the efficacy of the way we communicate.
With so many moving parts, how can we dial-in on the best way to connect and exchange information with others? Which elements do we have control over so that we can fine-tune our communication skills? How can we foster authentic communication?
50% of a good conversation is made up of listening. The feedback we send is based on how we interpret a message and a key step to putting together informed feedback is listening.
As practitioners, we recognise the importance of pauses and silent gaps between conversations with our clients. We teach and practice embracing stillness yet we know that it can be challenging.
For some, these moments of quiet can feel awkward and so we rush to fill the space with less meaningful conversations. This can be rooted in our need to please others. It may also be triggered by the perceived need to carry lengthy conversations.
Providing enough space between messages leaves room for more truthful and authentic exchanges. Not all spoken (and unspoken) words are created equal. Some can be easily shared with others while there are also words or questions that take more courage and time to say. This is why beneficial to be more comfortable with other people’s hesitations and pauses.
If we take a step back, wait, and listen, we open up to information we may have never known. The consistent practice of embracing silence will eventually alleviate our need to fill the gap. The unhurried energy we bring to a conversation may even be transferred to others, thereby helping them be more open and receptive.
When we listen, we are receiving and responding instead of reacting. We become more attentive to what is being said, as well as to the other person’s non-verbal cues. Listening teaches us to channel empathy, hence, creating a safe space for honest and meaningful communication.
WHAT MAKES A MESSAGE/FEEDBACK AUTHENTIC?
Circling back to the Transactional Model, we understand that feedback is a new message in itself. The take off-point of each message is based on previous feedback, but to move the conversation forward, new perspectives have to be added.
So what makes a message with a new perspective valuable and authentic?
- Well-intended – This means that we have the other person’s well-being in mind when we choose our responses. Our objective is to encourage the other person. For example, sharing a relatable story with a client can boost their confidence because they now know we were able to overcome similar challenges ourselves.
- Truthful – No exaggerations or omissions, even if it may be difficult for the person to hear. An example of this is an intervention for someone who makes unhealthy life choices. Even though unpleasant, what’s being said is based on truth combined with good intentions.
- Adds useful information – It benefits the other person’s experience or improves their current or future state. Providing insightful answers to questions is a good example. As long as we’re sharing useful and relevant information to a person’s viewpoints, that is considered a valuable conversation.
- Firm but not hurtful – Some conversations require us to use a more serious tone to get our message across. This does not mean that we have to be harsh. For example, a good leader can tell an employee that they’ve made a mistake without attacking their self-confidence. By objectively telling an employee how to improve instead of focusing on the mistake, the leader prevents future mishaps and has also helped with the employee’s skill set.
- Time-sensitive – This means we send feedback when it is needed and not at a later time when the information may no longer be useful. For instance, verbalizing our boundaries in the beginning stages of a relationship may prevent potential triggers. It sets the course into calmer waters instead of struggling to paddle away from rough waters when we could have prevented it.
- Solicited – Even if we have the best intentions for others, it’s important to be mindful of when we share our thoughts with them. If others aren’t open to accept the message, then it’s best to wait until they are ready.
Ultimately, effective communication is a shared mutual experience. The aim is to add to someone’s positive experience while learning more about ourselves at the same time.
Tony Robbins once said,
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”
 “Models of Communication,” in Businesstopia, February 4, 2018, https://www.businesstopia.net/communication
 Communication in Counseling, https://psychology.iresearchnet.com/counseling-psychology/multicultural-counseling/communication-in-counseling/
 Helical Model of Communication – Speech Communication,https://www.slideshare.net/LesterVirus/helical-model-of-communication