On Communication

On Communication

What is communication?

Communication is a transfer of information. Given such an uncomplicated definition, communication may appear simple on the surface.

However, digging deeper, we find that the vastness, richness, and complexity of communication processes are astonishing.

The process of individual atomic information transfer is relatively uncomplicated. However, the magnitude of overall information flow is enormous.

Multi-channel, bi-directional, and pervasive communication is a core part of our existence. We can’t turn it off. Communications can be like treacherous rapids filled with rocks and whirlpools fed by a massive, unyielding current of multidirectional information.

  • Communications grow.
  • Communications evolve.
  • Communications are a system.

Every interaction we have feeds into larger systems of communications. And the information transfers come together to give rise to mega systems, where each message transfer becomes an integral part of a more extensive network.

Imagine it this way. Say you are examining a single molecule or drop of water. To make water, you take two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom. What could be simpler, right?

As everyone knows, many things appear simple at first glance. When you focus on one bit, you lose perspective on the bigger picture.

Systems are another story because they have inherent, unexpected, and emergent behaviors which extend far beyond the micro-transactions happening inside.

And if you take a step back and see the systemic effects, their impact, and the systemic complexities, it is extraordinary.

Drops of water culminate in destructive rain-soaked storms and flash floods.

These individual water molecules coalesce into the force behind raging rivers, carving out canyons over the centuries.

Water gives us glaciers, enables ocean tides, and drives weather patterns. Water rains sustenance and life across our planet. Water fosters life. And water has done all of this before recorded time and across the millennia.

You can see how just taking a step back from the perspective of the tiniest components brings the many massive tangled hairballs of multiple intertwined systems into focus.

Each of these systems is complex, even when examined in isolation. But, it is amazing how quickly complexity grows beyond comprehension given all the interwoven parts.

Systems slam into each other. Systems feedback into each other. And systems amplify or dampen each other in nuanced, intricate, and sometimes chaotic and unpredictable interactions.

Isn’t it astonishing how quickly a simple concept, phenomenon, or component can become highly sophisticated, deeply complex, and even dangerously chaotic when part of a system? Even more so when considering a meta-system of systems?

Communication systems are an incredibly rich field to research, study, and develop.

Breaking it down

Back to communications specifically: let’s focus on examining them at the microscopic level.

Every atomic information transfer is a simple building block with three core components:

  • At least one sender
  • A single message
  • At least one recipient.

The sender transmits information to one or more recipients through a communications channel.

And to be intelligible, the sender must encode the information to be appropriate for the channel while also being appropriate for the recipients.

Then, the recipients must decode the transmission. Understanding requires interpreting motivation, meaning, and significance to flesh out the complete picture.

Even at this microscopic level, I’m sure you can see the potential for misunderstanding at every step.

Effective communication involves minimizing potential misunderstandings and removing communication barriers. And a variety of factors can influence the delivery and interpretation of each atomic message.

One of the most significant factors in the effective transmission and interpretation of information is the context of each participant.

  • our emotional context
  • the cultural context
  • The business context
  • Our physical context (location)
  • and the medium used to communicate,

Encoding Information

We all encode information to transfer abstract thoughts into spoken words, written words, or pictures. Proficient communication requires skill in encoding messages for your audience and channel.

Poor communicators feel that this is just a one-way operation. I’m sure you recognize these interactions. I’m sure it wouldn’t be a stretch to remember when you felt someone talking at you rather than with you.

It takes emotional maturity to communicate well. Poor communicators fail to encode effectively. A focus on their internal state or feelings distracts them from focusing on transferring information. In extreme cases, they are entirely ignorant of whether anyone understands them.

Poor communicators often focus on expressing themselves.

Some feel satisfaction just hearing their voice.

They are ‌likely unaware of the bigger picture, their audience, and the current communication channel.

They fail to tune in to their recipients. They don’t understand if their message decodes correctly. And, they fail at the underlying goal: communication.

Encoding information to maximize absorption is the first step in effective communications.

Decoding Information

Communication is a complex process that requires focus, effort, and time. It’s difficult to get your message across to people, and it’s even more difficult to decode the messages that others are trying to send you. The success of your communication largely depends on your recipient’s ability to decode your message.

People interpret and understand messages differently. A complex mixture of factors affects comprehension, perception, and analysis. Successful decoding depends on the recipient’s understanding of the context, how well they know you, their state of mind, the time and circumstances in which they received the message, and much more.

Maximize your probability of correct decoding by crafting messages tailored for each individual recipient, circumstance, and objective.

Feedback

Most people appreciate that feedback is necessary to recognize if you have successfully transferred information.

The most successful communicators have a deep appreciation for the power of feedback and accept that feedback is the most reliable way to review, clarify, and align.

They think through how someone will decode a message.

They always take the context and their recipients into account.

They continually examine, anticipate and remove potential sources of misunderstanding.

Careful observation amplified with real-time feedback allows you to fix confusion, correct misalignment, and recognize and avoid mistakes as soon as possible. And, most times, you can’t afford to make mistakes because even a single miscommunication can cost you a customer, a sale, or even your job.

We have to fix the disease instead of fighting symptoms. Facilitating focused feedback is your opportunity to fix communication failures before they fester.

Improving communication

Become an effective communicator by first carefully encoding your messages.

  • Craft your message for your audience and the communication channel.
  • Use simple, clear, and mutually understandable language.
  • Ensure a sufficient transfer of knowledge.

Think ahead to expect likely causes of confusion and misunderstanding.

Next, you can become a more effective communicator by tuning in to the signals coming back from the other person.

Keep in mind that while it is a deceptively simple concept‌, communication is a complex process that requires focused effort and perseverance. The ability to communicate effectively is essential for success. Without the ability to communicate well, you can’t get your ideas across, you can’t make connections, you can’t make a difference in the world.

When communicating, you’re transmitting information or absorbing information. And trying to do both at the same time is not effective. If you want to communicate effectively and reach mutual understanding, keep three things in mind:

Place heavy focus on soaking in information

Understand what is not being said. Dial-in and pay close attention to all forms of feedback, not just information. Tune into verbal cues, visual cues, auditory cues, emotional cues, body language cues, pace cues, and more.

Observe, process, and constantly adapt your communication approach from the feedback you receive. Tune in to understand how the person you are communicating with interprets the information you provide.

The Bigger Picture

Accurate, effective, and unambiguous communication is challenging because there is much more to communication than just an atomic one-way transfer of information.

We exchange ideas. We align perspectives. And we solve actual problems. And every idea, each alignment, and every problem, has inherent complexity.

Like the many systems created by water molecules, we generate higher-order communication weather systems by exchanging information. And these higher-order systems churn and grow into even more massive codependent and interwoven meta-systems of systems.

Because of the breadth of communication influence and impact, it’s vital to distinguish between a single information transfer while staying tuned into larger-scale practical communications that meet actual purposes.

If you take a moment to step back and think about it, it makes sense to be aware of our purpose? To be effective, we should constantly ask ourselves if we have met our goals, right?

Perspective

Even isolated activities like writing code boil down to communications. For example, every lowest-skill developer can write code that machines understand because that’s the bar for getting a job. But that’s not where the value is.

Great developers realize that code is a living thing. It is communication. It will change, grow, and evolve. Just like a novel, we produce it once and then consume it over and over and over again.

Great developers have an informed perspective and the foresight to focus on writing code that other people can understand. This communication takes a tremendous amount of skill, proficiency, and insight to execute effectively.

Also, if we think ti through, people rarely write code for themselves. They are building tools for other people. The more effective interpersonal communications, the more on-point your solution is for your customer. Communication challenges are the reason ‌it’s well known that naming things well is one of the largest challenges in software development.

It doesn’t take much common sense to realize that we can avoid vast amounts of rework by getting things right the first time, when it is cheapest, during early communication phases. Better communication helps navigate around the vast majority of defects we see today because most creep in during initial communications (or lack of communications) before design, construction, or maintenance. Also, having crystal clear communications ensures every future change is on-point and helps prevent defects materializing when upgrading, enhancing, and changing any system. And if there’s one thing I have observed over the last 25 years, it’s that every system is under constant change.

Everyone knows technical issues are frustrating, time-consuming, and often challenging to solve. The technical challenges slamming into us every day like runaway freight trains where we’re stalled on the tracks present enormous problems for businesses, families, and our society. Defects kill people, destroy families, and devastate lives. Defects cost every single company hundreds of thousands, if not millions, if not billions, of dollars.

Technical issues lead to lost customers, lost revenue, and lost opportunities. But here’s the thing: Most technical defects encountered today have little to do with technology. Most stem from fundamental communication failures.

Communication is also a vital part of our lives. Sometimes, it’s challenging to find the right words or start a conversation. It’s hard ensuring mutual understanding. But, it’s worth the effort because communication is the key to success and happiness in life. Communication keeps families together. It’s how emotions flow. It’s what makes relationships work.

Communication is the glue cementing team morale, drive, and motivation at work. It’s the fertile soil for planting and growing long-term relationships. Communication is the primary mechanism for effective interpersonal transactions, exchanging ideas, and fueling the discovery of breakthrough technologies.

It just makes sense that teams with superior communication will have tighter coordination, higher focus, and exceptional performance. And communication is the key to success in any business because without it, you’re doomed to fail.

During the 1970s, Melvin Conway had a brilliant observation. He saw the drastic effects of information canyons etched by streams of communications flowing through organizations charting the courses of all systems the organization produces. Conway’s Law states “Any organization that designs a system will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.”

Without communication, we could not achieve the information transfer and coordination needed to build roads, railways, and bridges. Cities would not function. Societies and countries would decay into chaos.

Today, our civilization exists and continues to function primarily sustained by highly sophisticated levels of coordination based on communication.

The world is becoming more and more interconnected, and the pressure for communication is building exponentially. Our current systems are inefficient, error project, and dangerous. We’re living in a world where our lives, our success, and our prosperity increasingly depend on communication. But this remains a massive challenge because our current approaches are outdated.

Summary

Effective communication bridges the gaps between people, allows us to work together and moves our careers, technology, and society forward.

Communication is at the heart of all we do and all we are. Improving communications presents an immense opportunity to improve our world.

The opportunities for applying modern technology to our communications are enormous. We can better encode information. We can better decode information. We can better understand contexts, recipients, and communication channels. And, we can better absorb feedback, maximize alignment, and optimize coordination.

Communication permeates every aspect of our lives, from finances, careers, health, and safety. Communication is vital for our families, friends, and neighbors. Communication is the lifeblood of our society. Communication is the foundation for every tool we use and every technology we produce. And communication is pivotal in framing, forming, and building all of our futures and the future of humanity.

And now, we are entering a new era, experiencing this massive explosion of digital technology and tooling. And it is time we harnessed this power to raise the collective intelligence of the entire world for the better.

This is my aim with Truth Shield and our first tool, Lexala. With Lexala, I aim to unlock and crack open the doors for you to new, modern, and elevated approaches of communication. I’m betting that we all want to see defect rated driven down, efficiencies boosted, and the world changed for the better in ways that have never been possible before.

This is what I mean when talking about communications.

As always, if you have questions, I’d love to hear from you and hear how I can help. Reach out and let’s talk about how we can change the world together, one interaction at a time.