“The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” — George Bernard Shaw
Every summer I teach a course on happiness at a youth leadership camp, and on the first day, as an icebreaker, I show everyone a picture and ask them to write down a one-word description of what they see. Even though everyone sees the same picture, I always get different answers. Most people say they saw a duck, while others say they saw a rabbit, yet still others say they saw a penguin, and one student even said she saw “yellow.” I still don’t know exactly what she was going for.
What do you see when you first look at this picture? Depending on how you look at it you may see either a duck or a rabbit, or perhaps something else entirely. This highlights, in a rather silly yet direct way, how it can often be difficult to communicate with others when the symbols, concepts, words, ideas, and so forth, can all mean one thing for one person, but for another person they can mean something completely different.
I’m reminded of the story of a husband and wife who were enjoying a romantic evening together sitting under the stars. The husband turned to his wife and said: “Honey, in the moonlight your teeth look just like pearls.”
And to this beautiful sentiment, the wife horribly upset and said: “Who the heck is Pearl? And what were you doing with her in the moonlight?!”
Communication can be difficult when we’re not all on the same page, but it’s especially difficult when we’re not even reading from the same book!
It’s been said that everyone communicates, but unless be make a true connection then it’s just the illusion of communication. If we want others to understand where we are coming from then we must first seek to make a connection with them. When a connection is made from common ground it’s then that the doors to true communication become unlocked.
Have you been bamboozled by the illusion of communication? What can you do today to foster genuine connections with others?
Jonas Cain is an instructional designer, facilitator of fascination, and purveyor of positivity—helping to initiate and manage positive change for individual, team, and community growth.