The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Communication? Relationship!

The team was addressing their problems with another team. To solve the problem, Rick announced that he would make sure that a clear message would be sent to the other team. He had heard enough of the problems mentioned to decide how to proceed. And so he did.

Nothing happened. After a week the teams had reverted to business as usual.

Rick had paid attention to how to craft the message, seeking to be clear. However, for him, communication is there to send out information. Communication thus being all about the content being transmitted.

While there is nothing wrong with this assumption, it often misses the point that the content shared is much more than the words. The other element that is often forgotten is the validation, that is how it is being received and acknowledged.

It goes back to the “mother of all models” in communication, which is based on an article published by Claude Shannon in 1948. The model describes the basic elements of communication as “a mathematical theory of communication”. It served to understand the basic functions of sending and receiving information with the involved coding and decoding steps. The aspects of communication this model didn’t serve are all the social aspects of communication and what it doesn’t into account is the context of the communication.

This doesn’t make that model less useful. It did for example establish the grounds for information theory as a field. Nevertheless, it invites to pay attention to the context in which the model is being used.

Other theories were developed implying this model while expanding it. Transactional Analysis is one of these, it was described by Eric Berne in the late 1950s and has since been developed by transactional analysts worldwide.

Its name highlights the perspective onto communication the theory has in asserting that transactions are the basic description of a relationship. It describes how people connect in that transaction, which is a stimulus and its reaction.

A stimulus is anything we share with someone else leading to a reaction. The reaction completes the first transaction and is as well as the stimulus in the next transaction. It may involve words but doesn’t necessarily need to.

What Berne found was, that within every transaction we already aim at a specific type of reaction. Simplifying his description, they can be perceived as of guidance, exploration, or of experience.

Based on this he noticed that communication flows when there is an agreement between those involved as to which correlation of type of stimulus and reaction they will use. As long as they stick to it, both are finding what they are searching for in that exchange of transactions. It doesn’t matter if it is constructive or not, or if it is healthy or not. From their point of view, things are as agreed. It’s a dynamic that suits them.

How it serves the task is an entirely different question.

It is missing this difference that contributes to making communication such a difficult task.


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