Home > The Monday Musings Column > communication is a funny old game

communication is a funny old game

Life is too short to take it all too seriously and amongst the serious stuff we managed a decent bit of hilarity at the BIFM Scotland Conference last month, mostly led by Cathy Hayward’s observations on communication.
Much of what Cathy put to us was visual, using pictures of signs that didn’t, one hopes, quite mean what they said. This sort of thing has always delighted me and I have been a fan of visual and aural gags since childhood (possibly another sign of never quite managing to grow up). The message though is a serious one because the point of communication is to get across the message as you mean it, not in a way that is open to misinterpretation.
In general signs are passive; they just sit there and hope that people see them, read them and understand them. Some do try to attract attention, especially those that light up or flash lights at you, but consider those expensive motorway signs that so often tell you there is a problem long after there isn’t one and are perhaps the modern equivalent of the boy who called wolf.
When you communicate verbally you usually have your audience in front of you and that allows you to gauge reaction and understanding in real time. If you think the message isn’t connecting you can make adjustments, but the signs that you
put up have to get it right first time every time.
Communication is a fascinating topic. Over the last few days I have been working with people for whim English is a second, or third, language. In trying to talk to them I have become acutely aware of how many redundant words we use and find myself editing my words on-line between brain and mouth to take out everything that I don’t need to say so that my message is as easy to translate for them as possible. Colloquialisms and jargon have to come out too, and whilst that is not too hard for the elements that I have been able to rehearse, spontaneous responses take concentration.
Language, and the way that we use it, will always change over time. That is as  it should be, but in these days of instant communication we need to take care. In the days when we drafted something and reviewed it before it left us we had
time to refine our words. That is rarely the case now as we rip off responses to emails on our personal communications devices. Does it matter if today’s speed and shorthand is rough and ready? Maybe not always, but if we allow ambiguity into our messages, whether they be verbal, written, signage or anything else we put our message at risk.
Cathy’s message in Edinburgh was clear enough; we can do better with our communications and her use of humour helped get the point over. Taking time to get it right is time well spent; how we achieve that in the modern, instant, environment is a challenge.

Author’s Note: It is pm on Tuesday and I have just become aware that the MondayMusing had not appeared on schedule. My error, for in setting up the scheduled date and time for publication I had mis-typed the former. Here it is and my apologies for the late arrival.

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