On the challenge course we often do "walk and talks" as we move from one team-building element to another. One of my favorites starts like this: "Please pick a partner, decide who is the earthling and who is the alien. As the earthling, describe to the alien the definition of an egg. The alien can ask questions, but must imagine what it would be like to see an egg for the first time." This is a great exercise for revealing how complicated communication can be at times. Some of the best responses come when the alien asks the question, "Well, where do eggs come from?" When the earthling answers, the alien quickly interrupts with "Really? It comes from there and you eat them. GROSS!" This challenge illustrates the nuances of communication and how easily meaning can be lost in translation.
To take a less exaggerated route, I will use a real life example that many of us have struggled through, "Where to go for dinner?" First, an example of the typical path we travel, then what happens when we are aware of matching perceptions. (Ali's perception is Emotions, Kevin's perception is Thoughts)
Ali "It would be nice to go to dinner."
Kevin "Where would you like to go?"
Ali "I don't know."
Kevin "What are you in the mood for?"
Ali "I don't know, whatever you would like."
Kevin "Are you in the mood for pizza, burgers, Mexican, Chinese!?! Do you want sit down, take out or fast food!?!
Ali "I don't even feel like going anymore." :(
What happens in this scenario is both Ali and Kevin have expectations of a need they wish to get met. The subtleties of what is happening behind the conversation is missed. When Ali stated, "It would be nice to go to dinner," she is really saying she would like to share quality time with Kevin and would like to connect through the perception of Emotions. Kevin missed the delicate clues and responded with Thoughts and his preferred logical approach to gathering information. The loss of communication in this case comes from self-deceiving expectations that are put on the other person. If we want to put ourselves on the path for healthy communication we must view life through the lens of another's perception.
So, how does this conversation look if both are aware of the other's preferred perception?
Ali "It would be nice to go to dinner." (Ali alludes to what she wants instead of asking outright.)
Kevin "Dinner would be nice. I am excited to spend time with you. Where would you like to go?" (Kevin is aware of Ali's need for personal connection and invites her to ask for what she wants.)
Ali "Somewhere nice, How about Christos?"
Kevin "That is an excellent idea!"
The goal of communication is to get to a place where both parties win. Like learning a new language, matching another's perception takes work and practice before you reach perfection.
Jason Colvin, Director of Team Quest