Archive for November, 2009

It seems to me that most often, in communication, we are trying to drive home a message from one person or group to another. It seems the purpose of which is to get that other person or group to do something they might otherwise not do. A keyword to describe this would be “persuasion”.

I have heard it said that leadership is the art of persuading others to do what you want them to do while believing it is what they want to do. This would seem to define “effective communication” very specifically as having persuaded the “other”. Personally I think this is a failed definition or at the very least “weak” in terms of “real/authentic” communication as tied to “Leadership”. Again, here is where worldview and philosophical foundations play into what one calls “effective”. While there could be times where this type of communication is essential, leadership that depends on this method does seem weak to me. This type of leadership takes an “us vs them” and the “enemy is out there” approach to human interaction. It misses the connectedness of all and misses that we can be our own worst enemy.

Bohm Dialogue
I was introduced to David Bohm through the writings of Peter Senge (Fifth Discipline) and Joe Jaworski (Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership). I have not purchased Bohm’s book, “Dialogue”, but have reviewed a number of websites, including Wikipedia. The editors of the Wikipedia entry encapsulate four principles of Bohm Dialogue:
1. The group agrees that no group-level decisions will be made in the conversation.
2. Each individual agrees to suspend judgement in the conversation.
3. As these individuals “suspend judgement” they also simultaneously are as honest and transparent as possible.
4. Individuals in the conversation try to build on other individuals’ ideas in the conversation.

We can see glimpses of this in brainstorming sessions. The most satisfying brainstorming sessions in which I have participated are free from decisions and judgements; no one holds back their best contributions; and one thought often builds on another.

For Bohm (david-bohm.net/dialogue/) dialogue is sharing of thoughts. “Thought”, to his thinking is more than “mere” intellect or intellect’s output. Thought includes our fullness/wholeness: thoughts; emotions; feelings; etc. In this way we do not simply send a message. In dialogue we send ourselves, open and vulnerable. Additionally, Bohm’s dialogue has no apparent agenda (“Why Dialogue” paragraph 3).

Two paragraphs later, Bohm says that dialogue “is not concerned with deliberately trying to alter or change behavior nor to get the participants to move toward a predetermined goal.” I can think of various experiences of “dialogue” where there was a “Hidden” agenda behind the “dialogue” and other times a much closer experience to Bohm’s Dialogue. The experience of the hidden agenda is felt by participants and it changes participation (at least it did in me). I am left with wondering why we bothered to “do” the activity. When I questioned the person in charge once, than answer I got was basically, “I want every one to know they have been heard.” But the person’s mind was already made up and I am not sure he achieved that which he thought he had achieved. There were many discontented murmurings after the meeting.

On the other hand I have had very positive experiences in dialogue. While there was still an agenda of making a decision eventually, the decision surfaced through the contributions of all participants. The decision reflected the input and was seen in the outcomes.

I am reminded of Peter Jarvis’ thoughts on Human Learning (see my post of Sept 30, 2009). With this in mind, when we enter into Bohm Dialogue we bring all of our knowledge and learning as well as an openness to new learning.



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When it comes to the tools of communication I can’t help but think of “Methods” as well. Tools would be completely neutral to effective or ineffective communication. Methods – well, I’m still thinking about methods.

On first thought “face to face” is a method, not a tool. Where as any form of telephone is a tool. In any case I will brainstorm some of the tools and methods. I use/have used for communicating with others:

Telephone (cell; VoIP, etc)
video conference equipment (iChat, Skype, Polycom, etc)
Screen sharing (built-in to the OS [Mac/Windows], web-based,
convergence: GoToMeeting, breeze, etc
Letters, email, fax
Art: paintings of all sorts, photography, poetry, etc
Text (books, magazines, newspapers etc)

As I see these items in front of me, I begin to see how “letters” may be a method, where “Pen” and “paper” are tools. The Gutenberg press would be a tool where as a document using the press would be a method. Often I have heard it said to use the media as a tool to “get the word out”. But to be nit-picky this would be “Method” rather than “tool” in my worldview. The “Media” itself is multi-modal methods and tools: print; audio; visual; as well as the people and events created and used as “media events”. Thus we have multiple methods and tools being used with and sometimes without the impact for which they were purposed and designed.

I hope that makes sense. If not I trust you’ll post a comment below.

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From the Sereno and Mortensen text comes this definition of communication:
“a process by which senders and receivers of messages interact in given social contexts.” (p 5)

It was in my M.Ed program that I really began to probe the concept of complex adaptive systems. The individual human is a complex adaptive system. When combining any number of humans complexity isn’t reduced.

Communication therefore cannot, by definition, ever be “simple”. “Communicative events involve the whole person… perceptions, learning, drives, emotions, attitudes, beliefs, values, decoding-encoding, meaning, messages, and social situations.” (Sereno p 4).

It would seem that with each added human, the complexity is increased. The “ladder of inference” is a play here as well.

A couple of communication games come to mind: There is one where you whisper a statement to a person and they, in turn whisper to their neighbor and so on around a circle, to where the person who started the process is the last to receive the message back. Another, is where everyone writes a statement on a piece of paper (each person has a stack of paper). Everyone then hands the stack of paper with the statement on top the person on their left who then draws a picture of the statement on the next sheet of paper in the stack, sending the statement to the bottom. Again, everyone hands their picture to the person on their left, who then writes a statement of the picture on the next blank sheet, sending the drawing to the bottom. This continues until each person receives the stack they started.

Besides being a hilariously fun experience, rarely is the message received at the end the same message sent.

Now when it comes to “message” the method(s) we choose to deliver will influence the reception of the message itself. This will be “customized” based on the individual receiver. While this is my own thinking and makes sense to me based on being complex adaptive systems (we humans), there are, of course, models (and models in models) that cover this: Ladder of Inference (Senge et al 1990) and the Transactional Model of Communication (Barnlund – as seen in Sereno text 1970 p 83-102), just to locate two in my limited time.

We have face to face methods which we generally trust the most. Not only do we have a verbal message we receive, by sight, nonverbal cues. I gave a sermon the other day and had a single message sent to the congregation. My single message, based on who I am and all my worldview, assumptions, etc was conveyed to all those present. I too, received immediate feedback with both verbal and nonverbal cues from the congregation.

Some did not seem to receive it well, while others were inspired and encouraged. Some walked out, some slept, others laughed heartily, some chuckled; some said loud “Amens”, some clapped. In all there was two-way communication. The sermon was recorded. It will be available as an audio file and a video/audio file. No longer will I receive immediate feedback.

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In my morning walk with Trixy (my wife) and Jordan (our dog), I was reflecting on basic communication: message sent; message received; and a feedback loop. That was the message I sent to Trixy and she received my words and gave me feedback – that of affirmation and examples; which I in turn affirmed in my own words back to her.

My Bachelor degree is in Mass Media with emphasis in Radio/TV Broadcasting and Radio/TV/Film production. I have with me as a resource “Foundations of Communication Theory” Sereno and Mortensen; 1970. I also recently picked up “International Communications Strategy” Cambie and Ooi; 2009.

Before cracking the books, I think I need to think a bit more about where I have been and where I am going.

As mentioned, I hold a BA in Mass Media. My M.Ed, while focused on Global Leadership looked at Communication. Now, for my PhD I am digging deeper still. Each experience has specific foci: Mass Media communication; Educational leadership/teaching communication; and now, I want to recapture the big picture and focus on my future: inter/cross cultural communication.

My career is steeped in communication. I critiqued scripts and needed to communicate (succinctly) pros and cons of a given script. As a grunt on sets or in the post production suite communication was essential to survival. Networking fails without positive communication. As a distribution (junior) executive I needed good relationships internal and external from my companies. As a writer/director/producer of TV programs to finish on time and close to budget requires good (effective) communication. To work as a freelancer and retain clients requires effective communication. To collaborate with faculty and administrators in building up an online program; to facilitate student learning outcomes, requires effective communication. Marriage has probably been the most demanding on my communication skills.

Communication builds relationships, relationships build networks. Thus the message communicated isn’t only what we want or need, but the essence of one’s self. Thus, “Leadership”, as defined as entering into relationship and having influence, communication must be assumed, for without effective communication one cannot have influence.

Now, the question is this: what is effective communication? The easy is answer is: that is what I am studying right now! Yet there remains for me a basic flexibility in the word “effective”. Even before digging into studies and texts “effective”, for me, isn’t a definitive list of “dos and don’ts”.

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