How Communication Happens

The amount of time we spend communicating is staggering. Studies show that college students spend 61% of their day communicating. Most of us aren’t college students any more, but we all spend much more time communicating than we realize.

Remember, communication includes:

  • giving instructions to your assistant
  • talking with a client on the phone
  • sharing your ideas and opinions in a meeting
  • sending an email
  • writing a memo or letter
  • or leaving a voice mail message
  • Even doodles can be a form of communication

They call this the Communication Age for good reason!


Skills & Understanding the Process

So, obviously having good communication skills is important. But equally important is understanding how the process works — or doesn’t, as the case may be. Once we understand this process, we can be more aware of the need to adapt to it and adjust for it. Much of the communicating we do is between two people face-to-face, so we’ll focus on that.

Let’s assume that it’s a beautiful, early spring day. You know the kind. The flowers are beginning to bloom, the air is clear and you’re feeling on top of the world. You want to share your feelings. Since most of us aren’t very good at reading minds yet, you have to take your ideas and feelings and put them into a form which someone else can understand. You might use words (“What a great day!”), gestures (arms flung up over your head), facial expressions (big smile), non-word sounds (happy sigh) and so forth. The person you’re trying to communicate with or who’s observing you must take your words, expressions, sounds and assign some sort of meaning to them. It may or may not be the meaning that you intended. If they don’t know you and simply see you in the park shouting to the birds and flinging your arms around, they may think you’re crazy and call the police!

Or, if I’m in your home and see a new piece of art on your wall, I might say, “that’s an interesting painting” and try to convey my delight by my tone of voice, phrasing, facial expression, etc. However, if you’re feeling defensive about it because you painted it and in the past maybe I haven’t always liked your paintings, you might feel that I’m being sarcastic or judgmental. Your perception as the receiver of the communication becomes your reality regardless of what I meant to communicate to you.


That’s a Good Start, Right?

However, the process isn’t finished. You now give me feedback. You might say “Thanks” in a flat or suspicious tone. Or, if you believe my sincerity, but are surprised that I liked it, your “Thanks” would reflect that. Then I would interpret your surprise (either positively or negatively), convey my reaction to you and the process continues back and forth. We communicate.


And it’s not just words.

What a person wears or does sends a message. The man who wears a ponytail is sending a non-verbal message about his sense of himself (consciously or unconsciously) as a free thinker and non-conformist. The first time you meet him, you immediately begin to send feedback. If you approve, your eyes may widen and your voice get warm. If you disapprove, the reverse may happen.

As you may have noticed, this isn’t a particularly simple process. Every step of the way there can be some sort of interference or “noise.” It might be literal noise in the hallway or next cubicle. It might be mental when you get distracted thinking about a current office problem or an ill child at home. You could misunderstand a word someone uses either because it’s industry jargon which you aren’t familiar with or a word you simply don’t know the meaning of. Your focus then shifts to understanding the meaning of the word and your attention turns away from what else is being said.



In addition, think about all of the things that influence our perceptions…

  • age
  • gender
  • education
  • religion
  • political affiliation
  • ethnicity
  • health
  • income level
  • our past relationship etc.

They all play a part in how we send and receive messages.

My feeling and communication about a political candidate is determined by whether I’m a Republican or a Democrat, Pro-Choice or Pro-Life, a member of the NRA or a gun control activist.

How I feel about and use money (which is a form of communication) is influenced by whether or not I have any.

To some people, being able to buy a used 1991 Ford Escort is a thrill, but to someone who is more affluent or who feels that the car they drive is a reflection of their identity, even a brand new Ford Taurus may not be enough.

We all look at everything through the filter of our own perceptions.


Communicate Unto Others…

So, by knowing how communication happens and being alert to the fact that there are many traps and pitfalls on the road, you can begin to improve your relationships and interactions with others. Remember a variation of the Platinum Rule as it applies to communication. “Communicate unto others as they wish to be communicated unto.”



©2017, Say It Well! Permission is given to reprint this article if the following is included: Reprinted by permission of Dr. Candice M. Coleman. She can be reached at 636-724-3761.