Well the BBQ was fired up this weekend and we christened the new outdoor dining area with a sumptuous feast of marinated chicken, fresh garden salads and a delectable cheesecake. Add that to a bottle or two of good red wine and the stage is set for post – prandial ponderings!

The subject of ‘instructions’ came up, as we are all concerned in the communications industry and luckily – after the second glass of red; and the successful completion of a rather tricky recipe – the husband was in a mellow mood and saw the humour in the situation, just!

The actual instructions for the construction of the BBQ were disinterred from the waste bin and handed around to be scrutinised; and the general considered opinion was that they left a lot to be desired. The husband was duly complimented on his ability to make sense out of nonsense and we all poured another glass of red and toasted the engineer and chef extraordinaire.

After the clean up, husband and I made a cup of tea and sat outside in the cooling of the day; he (as is his wont) dozed off, and I (as is my wont) began to ponder on the complexities of the English language.

You see there are two schools of thought about the theory of communications; one the American model which is often an outcome of psychology, journalism and sociology courses and is heavily into content analysis and the non-verbal types of communication. The other is obviously the British model. In the UK communication studies are often more concerned with the linguistics and semiotic analysis and are associated with media (film and television) and cultural studies. Australian concepts often can swing between the two; and the benefits of both and the superiority of one over the other is often hotly debated.

Perhaps it can be simplified by saying that the American courses emphasise the effect of language on the role of communication, while the British focus on the use of the language to achieve communication. It is, of course, far more complicated than that, but it will do to set the ground lines.

Because there are some things that they both agree on that does affect the effectiveness of communication, and if the Americans and the British can come to some united ideas about the English Language, maybe they are worth pondering about.

They do agree that as a general rule perception is one of the biggest blocks to the complete understanding of the spoken word. The first work on this was done in 1956 by George Gerbner who, while supporting the theories developed by Shannon and Weaver, actually went one step further and gave far greater importance to the way that words and language were perceived by the listener.

He decided that most major breakdowns in communication are caused by the different perceptions that people have of the meanings and interpretations of just what was said. He was followed by Roman Jakobson who, in 1960, emphasised just how complex the use of language is, especially when we consider people’s perceptions.

Our perceptions are often coloured by our cultural background, our family circumstances, our education and our life experiences.

Consider this exercise in clear thinking … a father and son were involved in a serious car accident one morning. The father was killed instantly and his son, with serious injuries and needing urgent surgical attention, was rushed to the hospital. The surgeon walked in and took one look at him and said “I can’t operate on him, he’s my son” How can this be true?

When we run this exercise the possible solutions are many and varied, and often wrong. Perhaps the father in the story was actually a Catholic priest? Or maybe he was an adopted son. Because we work from a cultural and media bias that tells us that most positions of authority and importance are held by men, we ignore the possibility that the surgeon was his mother.

In other situations we often supply the missing information ourselves and this, as we can see from above, can often be purely personal. And so, we may receive the message wrongly because we apply our own perception of what was meant. In business nothing is so ephemeral as the phrase “Right Away” … does that mean ‘now’ … or perhaps “When I have finished this job I am working on” or even “at the end of the week

So in fact, we are often inclined to interpret what we hear so that it fits into our own patterns of perception … in fact every communication that we participate in is affected by our perception of the words and phrases we hear. And as our perceptions are part of our history and as each and every one of us is different; so our perceptions will be different too.

Therefore it is important that we are aware of the way we supply our own material to fill in incomplete messages, so that we can clarify with the speaker that we have perceived their message correctly.

My musing and pondering complete, I perceived that the day was getting chilly, and so I woke up the husband and we retired inside. Another weekend was over with its BBQs and ponderings. I wonder what next weekend will bring.

Michele @ Trischel

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