The Key to Communication

As human beings, we have an innate desire to communicate with others; a profound urge to express our feelings, ideas and desires. It's something that I’ve always taken for granted. Being deemed the ‘loud kid’ from a young age created a pattern of habits that have led to my present day, outspoken self. Until last year, my definition of good communication was the ability to effectively convey my thoughts and ideas. I’d never thought to look at communication as a two-way stream, which now seems like an obvious oversight of the word. 

In essence, communication is the process of exchanging information. The word ‘exchanging’ is key to this definition as it implies equal involvement of two or more parties. In other words, good communication involves active listening as much as it does speaking. For me, this became clear during the first year of university, when I was forced into a world of new people and experiences. I was struggling with school, and I felt like I wasn’t being heard or understood, which was ironic considering my seemingly endless love for talking. Coupled with three hour inquiry classes every Monday, I began to realize the shortcomings of the way I was previously communicating. 

To get an idea across to someone, naturally, you need to speak your mind. One may think that being clear and concise should do the trick. However, it's important to realize that an idea is only conveyed effectively if it is received the way it was intended to by the speaker. Our internal biases influence how we perceive information, and so it's imperative that information is conveyed with this in mind. For example, I can’t fool myself into thinking that my clearly worded beliefs on the presence of a higher power will be effectively communicated to an atheist. Sure, they may acknowledge my opinion on the matter, but is the information truly being conveyed if they’re simply responding out of common courtesy? Then, it is essential that we convey messages in a way that caters towards our audience. Do not come to an academic with poorly constructed arguments, and do not go to a child with an essay on your thoughts and opinions. It seems simple enough, right? 

The process of communication starts getting complicated when you look at things from the listener’s perspective. As a listener, I have to understand the message that is being conveyed to me. Only after properly internalizing the speaker’s perspective can I give an appropriate response. If I am only focused on conveying my opinion and I fail as a listener, the conversation itself stops - it becomes a rant in which the speaker might as well be talking to an empty room. Thus, being a good listener might even be more difficult than being a good speaker. It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that a good listener is one who is open minded, empathetic and attentive. Think about it like this: if we have pre-existing assumptions about the speaker's intentions, refuse to give them the benefit of the doubt, or half-heartedly engage in the conversation, we are inadvertently clouding our minds with bias. This bias ensures that we, as listeners, are not receiving the message as it is intended, thereby, counteracting the entire purpose of the conversation. 

There’s a full circle moment when you finally realize how the two are connected. Being a good speaker goes hand in hand with being a good listener, and by achieving both we can create effective communication and a productive conversation. As students at the brink of our careers, I believe that this is an integral skill to master.