Communication as an art is lost

Photo courtesy of The Praying Woman | Distribution Manager Max Bruns argues that we’ve lost the skills that make communication an art.

We have lost the art of communication. And it is an art, in the classical sense of the word meaning “skill or practice.” An art is that which requires courage to attempt, born talent to begin and practice to perfect. The art of communication, true communication, is something which everyone has the born talent to begin, few have the courage to attempt and almost none will practice to perfect. That is because true communication requires deep reflection.

If you open your mouth and say the first thing that comes to mind, you are not truly communicating, even if you are directing the words that spill out to another person. That is because the words themselves are the last component of true communication, not the first.

The first component of true communication is not something intuitive. It is, in my opinion, intent. What do you intend to say? Is what you intend to say a true response to what the other person has said, or is it merely a reflection of what you’ve wanted to say all along? See, intentional communication requires that what you intend also responds to what whomever you are communicating with has already said. And what you intend to say should also be well thought out.

I’m sure many of us can think back to a time we said “I hate you” to our parents. Those words were probably not our intention. “I hate you” probably spilled out in response to some wounding thing that our parents said to us. “You need to get better grades,” mom yells. “I try!” I yell back. “You’re not trying hard enough! You’re lazy, and you don’t apply yourself!” she says with authority. “I hate you!” I end the conversation, and both my mother and I have learned nothing and are frustrated and upset.

I didn’t mean to say “I hate you.” What I probably meant to say was “I hate the way you made me feel just now” or “I hate that that is probably true” or, at the very least, “I hate that you don’t understand how hard I try to get good grades.” Any one of those three alternative responses would have been more closely aligned with my intention, and they would have been in direct response to what my mother said. And yet, communication failed. “I hate you” was my response. The conversation was over after that because communication breaks down when what we intend to say is lost by the effect that we try to have on the other person.

That is because the second component of true communication is knowing the difference between a response that begets a stunning effect and an effective response. A response that produces an effect is built on emotion and leaves no room for progressive communication. But an effective response shows intention and thoughtfulness, and it leaves the conversation open to progress. In the above scenario, saying “I hate that you don’t understand how hard I try to get good grades” might have led my mother to say, “Why don’t you tell me the steps you’re taking?” But saying “I hate you” left both of us wounded.

The third and final component of true communication is delivery, the ability to effectively espouse intention. If I say, “I hate that you don’t understand how hard I try to get good grades,” but I’m stomping my feet and pouting my lips and shouting, my mother might think I’m just trying to evoke pity. But if I say it calmly and earnestly, with an honest and open expression and defensive posture, my mother would know that I indeed want her to understand that I really do try hard and that she isn’t getting it.

Intention, effectiveness and delivery are three components that I have outlined for true communication because I believe they are the three most easily analyzed components of any conversation in which one might engage. The next time you are in a conversation — good, bad or neutral — ask yourself, am I being effective? Is my intention clear? Is my delivery in line with my intention? If not, take a deep breath and try again. Because in the end, these three elements are only mastered through practice.

Max Bruns photo

Max Bruns is a senior HAB, English and philosophy triple major. He is also the Distribution Manager for the Newswire from Cincinnati.