April 19, 2010
Lately I’ve seen several discussions about the senders responsibility to transmit information correctly. The responsibilities range from a correct choice of words to being explicit and not assuming that the implicit will be seen or heard. What you say and how you say it are definitely corner stones of succesful communication. However, I would also argue that the receiver of the information has the same obligations; to raise the abstraction level when interpreting the information in order to put everything into context and also to not try to read additional information where there is none.
Transferring of information needs to be built on a contract between sender and receiver, a contract stating that both parties will try to make the transfer as correct as possible. If we don’t have the intention of understanding each other correctly, there will always be misunderstandings. I’ve seen countless discussions where the parties refuse to look at the subject from the other side and thus intentionally misread what is being said or written. If the conversation lacks intention of understanding, there is no use in proceeding since there will always be ways to misunderstand by straw man arguments, cherry picking etc.
A good intention is not enough to guarantee a correct transfer though. We must always reflect on the information being sent and its intended purpose. Are we transferring some undisputable facts? Asking a simple question? Arguing a case? Covering our own backs? Do we want someone else to actually receive the information or do we just want them to know that we have sent it? If there’s no ambiguity in the purpose, then there will be less reason to extrapolate the information outside what has actually been sent.
So if both the sender and the receiver have the intention of making the transfer successful and we have an explicit intention with our communication, then we actually might get the result that we intended.
… Unless you’re broadcasting or otherwise pushing unsolicited information (like I’m doing with this blog), in those cases the responsibility lies entirely on the sender. So feel free to misinterpret my posts.
But in order to improve OUR communication, I hereby set up an open contract where I promise to do my best to learn from any comments posted here. I will try to see things from your perspective and if anything feels funky, I will ask for clarification or give you the benefit of the rule of six.