Friday, 18 February 2011

Quote of the week - Communication

The problem with communication... is the illusion that it has been accomplished.

George Bernard Shaw

The Four Facets of Communication

I see four facets of verbal communication that have an impact on its effectiveness.

1 - What I intended to say

2 - The words I used

3 - The words the listener heard

4 - What the listener thought I said

What I Intended to Say

This could be very simple, but mostly what we say is not as simple as we might think. As an example, I might say “it's time for lunch”. There is a lot of meaning in this that is not conveyed simply by the words. I always have a hot lunch, but you may not know that. When I say it's time for lunch, I haven't made it clear that this means I want to eat hot food within a few minutes rather than maybe within a couple of hours. What I think I have conveyed with these few words is largely dependent on my world picture.

The Words I Used

These are just a representation of what I intended to say. Words are never a perfect representation of the intended message, since they are hampered by both the limitations of the language, and the speaker's command of the language. I choose the words based on my experience of what I think it would take to convey what I intended to say. If I am talking to someone face to face, then I also have body language information that I have conveyed to the recipient, whether I am aware of it or not. If I am using a phone, or a video-conference, then some dimensions of the body language are lost, and if I am using written word, then most of the dimensions of body language are lost (but not all – think about such aspects as the exact timing of when you convey the written words).

The Words the Listener Heard

Normally we like to think this is exactly the same as the words I used. Unfortunately it frequently happens that someone hears something different from what was said. This can happen due to background noise, unclear speaking, conflicting body language, listeners expectations and many other causes.

What the Listener Thought I Said

The listener heard certain words, but the way they interpret them, and hence the message that they receive, is coloured by their world view. It is very likely that whoever you are talking to will have a different world view than you, and the more different their world view, the more likelihood there is of a misunderstanding.

So What?

As a writer these facets of communication affect me in two basic ways. Firstly the written word, as much as speech, is subject all four facets, and this can easily lead to the reader getting something different from my writing than intended.

Secondly I can use these facets to bring some spice to the dialoge between my characters. This can be surprisingly difficult to do, but if done well, can lead to some intriguing situations in the story.

The 'Four Facets of Communication' is an extract from my non-fiction ms 'Balancing Act'


  1. Hmmm... I actually blogged about this once, but I believe that what people are not saying says just as much as what they are.

    I try to get that into my story, but it can get complicated.


  2. Misha; I quite agree. Unspoken words are very telling, and we can use that in our writing, but to do so requires a lot of setting up.

  3. This is why texting is the devil (at least for my 15-year-old). With the listening element taken away, she sometimes interprets words in a negative way that wasn't intended. Drama, drama, drama :)

  4. Jess; Yes, text-speak reduces the English language to something rather too primative for me. When I text I take the time to spell everything out and make myself clr - It's a pain, so I don't bother often - phones are for speaking.

  5. I think it is so true from what you want to say to what the reader actually hears. I think sometimes I miscommunicate. I know what I want to say but can't effectively communicate it. Fellow crusader and new follower wishing you a great weekend!

  6. Regina; It's good to meet you. I'll pop over and visit your blog. I think being a writer helps us to realise the extent to which miscommunications occur, but I guess to some extent it also helps us to figure out how to fix it.

  7. NIce post. Those filters can be fun to play with in writing, not so fun in real life!
    Welcome to the crusade.

  8. Interesting that I, in my attempt to let you know that I added your site to my Blogroll, happened into the comments of a post about Communication :-)

  9. I love to write dialogue and agree with everything you've said above - used wisely, dialogue can convey so much more than the words spoken.

    I'm intrigued by your non-fiction book!

  10. Tanya; Yes, Filters Я Us when it comes to communication :-)

    Alexander; Thank you for the follow. Glad to meet you.

    Ellie; Yes, dialogue and the prefacing text that sets it up can convey some very complex and deep things. The art is to actually do that in our writing. I may be saying a bit more about the non-fiction book in future posts. It needs some work, though.

  11. Yes. And why crit partners become important. Sometimes we find we say things we didn't intend. Great article.

  12. Nice post! I like the idea of using it in dialogue or a novel in general--tricky!

    Anyway, hi buddy crusader! I'm making the rounds today and checking out your blog. Nice to meet you, and Happy Friday! :)

    Artzicarol Ramblings

  13. Hi, Tony,

    I really liked your post. Truer words were never said. These four facets are very important to remember when writing dialogue.

    My first book has a lot of dialogue. I had to edit many, many times because crit partners read different thing into my words than what I wanted.

    I like your posts, Tony. They are so insightful.

    Have a great weekend.


  14. Very nice. That's why I prefer to talk to people face to face depending on the topic.
    Some things just shouldn't be texted.

  15. M Pax; Yes, critiquing is a great way to find those kinds of problems.

    Carol; Good to meet you. I always think dialogue in fiction is one of the biggest challenges, for many different reasons.

    Michael; Thank you. Having someone read a different message than was intended is a hard one to spot, since our own world view is getting in the way. Crit partners are one of the few ways to find it.

    Gen; In conversation there's no substitute for face-to-face communication, but where it can't happen written words need to be so carefully considered. Texting so often seems to be the opposite.

  16. Very interesting post! And it's so true that what someone's trying to communicate can mean something else to another person.

  17. Loved your post! So true and so upsetting when the miscommuication causes true hurt. I'm following you now. See you around the crusade.

  18. I do a lot of public speaking on ADD and listening skills. I loved your take on relating it all to authors intent and writing, plus background knowledge and information of the reader/listener. It is amazing that writers can actually get across their real messages with so much trying to mess us up! A good example is emails. THey are so easily misunderstood because of their cryptic nature. Well, I hope that this cryptic message has let you know how much I enjoyed your article.

  19. Oh this is fun. Sometimes I write stuff and when others read it I realise my intent has gobne on deaf ears such as my metaphor for hunger.
    I'm always playing around with words and creating my own sayings. Like 'at the Bill Beaumont', which I say is Cokney ryhming slang for 'in a moment'. Or 'Where are the John Cleese?' Keys ;O)

  20. Just dropped by to say that I have an award for you on my blog. :-)

  21. Golden Eagle; Yes, it can get confusing sometimes!

    Zan Marie; Thanks for following. I've followed you too. Good point about the hurt. I've seen terrible arguments arise out of miscommunications.

    Jeanne: Thank you. I agree about emails. Because we email so much it's easy to get lazy about wording and that's when miscommunications most often occur.

    Madeleine; Interesting point - sometimes the misunderstanding causes an 'issue' and sometimes the point just gets lost.

    Misha; Wow! Many thanks - I'll pop over and take a look.

  22. Great post! It's amazing how many times writers receieve comments that people can't understand a phrase, sentence, paragraph, chapter, whatever. It always seems so clear in our heads...until it leaves...and then it doesn't seem clear at all.

  23. Hi fellow crusader! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm a follower now. I can't wait to read your first challenge. :)

  24. You make such a good point with this post. It's amazing how much miscommunication can happen because of difference between how two people interpret things.


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