What is Communication?

That’s easy right? We speak the same language (well actually we don’t but let’s not get too complicated just yet), the other person hears what we say so we must have communicated mustn’t we? Well I think we all know that that’s not always the case.

So that means communication must be more than words. We travel to another country where the people don’t share our language but we can still get by. Umbria, in central Italy, is a quiet rural region several hours north of Rome. I walked into a bar in a tiny village. The bartender and I were the only people in there. He spoke no English and I don’t know the Italian word for beer but with some gestures I was still able to achieve a successful outcome. I was able to sit down and enjoy a much needed cold refreshing beer.

Communication goes further than that though doesn’t it? In the high country of the Australian outback, winter snowstorms can periodically envelop the mountains, blanketing the countryside in several feet of snow. Pretty to look at and providing some necessary moisture for the soil but not so good if you are a sheep. On the top of a mountain ridge, almost a mile from my position, my tan and white Border Collie sheep dog was responding to my commands (waving arms and whistles) to guide a mob of sheep off the mountain and down to a lower, warmer pasture. Due to the steep, slippery, rocky terrain I was not able to get my horse up there but I could send my dog. My dog and I had communicated to achieve a successful outcome. We had brought those sheep down to safety.

Australian Kelpie working dogs use eye contact to communicate with the beasts they are working

So communication goes beyond person to person, human to human. Two years ago, I was in the hills of southeast Queensland, stalking wild red deer during the mating season with my wildlife camera. I had been secretly approaching a large stag, literally a few feet at a time, for almost 2 hours. He didn’t know I was within about 30 yards of his position until another stag appeared to challenge him. Both stags rapidly advanced in my direction until they both realised I was there. Their natural fear of humans took over their rivalry and with a startled roar, they took off in opposite directions. They had communicated with each other in the challenge, then with me in their fear response. I didn’t get my successful outcome, I missed a photograph, but they achieved their successful outcome; they had escaped their human foe.

So communication exists on many levels but there is one common factor in successful communications and that is understanding. Understanding comes from listening. When we listen with our ears, we understand the words. When we listen with our minds, we understand the message. When we understand the message we can have empathy and we can even build trust and we can move closer to a successful outcome.