Carol Burnett said, “Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own.” In contemporary terms, we might say, “Words, once they are tweeted, have a life of their own.” However we choose to do it, what we say, write, tweet, blog, text, or email, has the same root issue: communication without thought can become problematic.
We often think of communication as a simple human task using words. But communication is more than words – it’s five components that combine to create this complex thing that is often no more than a sentence.
The source (or sender), using their own cultural and experiential filters, creates a message that is transmitted through some medium to the receiver, who uses their own cultural and experiential filters to interpret the message and create feedback – all of which is called a communication loop. Then the process starts all over again, originating with either party to create a series of loops that make up a conversation.
No wonder we sometimes fail to understand each other!
The bad news about this complex thing called communication is we all experience its frustrations. But the good news is we can improve our ability to communicate with some thoughtful preparation and practice.
To start, consider that communication is simply the process of creating shared meaning. But as you can see in the Communication Loop description, both the sender and receiver(s) rely on their own experiences and background to write or interpret the message. Differences in culture, beliefs, or gender identity can get in the way of creating shared meaning.
Additionally, the medium or method used by the sender to transmit the message may have an impact on shared meaning. Email and text messages are poor ways to convey emotion compared to a phone call or face-to-face conversation.
Here are some practical and simple ways to improve how you communicate.
If Carol Burnett is correct, and I think she is, remember your words live on beyond the moment you express them. Improving your communication will leave a legacy of clarity, directness, and kindness others can learn from and follow.