Part of the Reflexive Matrix Program - A Course in Reflective & Reflexive Practice

Sometimes communication goes wrong, and we feel completely misunderstood, or totally misunderstand others, not because of what we say, and not because of how we say it, but because we have very different assumptions about the purpose and nature of our conversation. We might expect such incompatibility when we are talking with people from exotic parts of the world, who might bring to the conversation some very foreign cultural values and language structures, but in fact if we look carefully into our own familiar cultural settings, we can see many such conflicts occurring on a regular, day-to-day basis. These conflicts can be found at work, at home, and in our wider professional, community and social lives. It’s like people have different communicative navigational systems; they seek out different paths, have different destinations, follow different sets of rules. And as a result, as you might expect, inevitably some people get lost, inevitably some people clash head-on.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. We’re not locked up in some eternal Tower of Babel with no possibility for making solid improvements. While it’s probably true that each person’s communicative system is subtly different, is uniquely varied in some way, it is also the case that we can recognise particular types of communicative systems, and we can begin to understand how our own personal styles do and do not mesh with other types, and how we might modify some of our conversational behavioural settings so as to make things work a bit better. This is not as onerous a task as it might sound. It can of course be confronting to find that your sincerest and most generous attempts at communicating with someone can be interpreted the totally opposite way to what you had intended, but for most people that is more than compensated for by the delight of discovering the deeper human beings beneath the surface of their communicative style.

And if that client who just never ‘got’ you, no matter how much you turned on the charm, comes to see you a bit more clearly, or if you come to understand that that annoying little pipsqueak from the advertising section, the one who just grates on you the minute he opens his mouth, in fact underneath it all actually has something worthwhile to say, then isn’t that a plus?

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