Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Communication Skills of Albus Dumbledore


Because this blog focuses on communications skills, this issue will focus on why many people stumble in their careers because of a "failure to communicate."

Many of you who read the first Harry Potter book or saw the first movie might remember the immortal words of Albus Dumbledore.

"I would like to say a few words. And here they are:


Hardly the words of a great communicator!

Oddly enough, many of us blubber on and sound like nitwits to others because we think we are communicating when we are not.

Many of you have probably learned that, in communication, you have a sender, a receiver, and feedback. Those are the components of communication, but that does not tell us what communication is.

And therein lies the problem.

How can we communicate successfully if we don't know what communication really is?

When I ask people what communication is, here is one answer I hear.

"Communication is the dissemination of information."

What do you think? Yuk!

Let me share another definition I get.

"Communication is the transfer of ideas"

Buy that? I don't.

I also get this answer.

"Communication is the exchange of information."

Still not close.

Pretend that two weeks ago, I sent each of you a letter after you signed up for one of my workshops. The first line of that letter said, "When you come to the workshop, please bring a paradigm of communication with you."

Trust me. I did not use the word "paradigm" to impress you.

But think about that. I sent you a letter and the first sentence asked you to bring a "paradigm" of communication.

The word "paradigm" in that context helps me prove two points.

First, far too many people who attend my workshops do not know or are not sure what that word means.

Second, those who know what it means may use the word to impress others who do not know what it means.

Pretend for a moment that you do not know what the word means.

When you read that first sentence of my letter asking you to bring a "paradigm," you will do one of four things.

The first thing you might do is throw it away.

In your mind you would say to yourself, "Who is this clown trying to impress?"

If you throw away the letter, I failed to get the results I was looking for.

If you don't throw the letter away, the second thing you might do is "assume." You would assume that reading the rest of the letter would explain what the word "paradigm" meant.

Or, you would assume that the word carried little value and that the remainder of the letter would explain the important information.

The third thing you might do is ask the next twelve people who walk by your desk, "What's a paradigm?"

They don't know either! That wastes time. Your goal when communicating should be to save time. You want to save time for you and the people with whom you communicate.

So, finally in total frustration, you resort to the last resort.

You look up the word in the dictionary or you "Google" it.

You read the definition, reread my letter, check the definition one more time to see if I used it properly, and you say to yourself, "I'm going to fix his wagon."

So, you write me a letter and you say, "We don't have any paradigms around here, but we have a lot of affamits."

I have no idea what an "affamit" is.

Check out what just happened.

We have just disseminated information.

We have just transferred ideas.

We have just exchanged information.

Has communication taken place? Not even close.

As far as I know, affamits don't exist.

We do have a thing called a paradigm. Before I tell you what a paradigm is, let me tell you what communication is.

The word "communication" comes from a Latin word that means "to share."

That's why everything today is ".com."

The concept of the Internet was to "share" information.

Before you share something with someone, one other condition must exist.

You must care. You must care enough that they understand what you've said. You don't have to like the person; you don't have to agree with the person to communicate.

If I looked at Janet and said, "Janet, this is the best writing program you'll ever attend."

Janet looks at me and says, "Borowski, you're full of canal water."

Are we communicating? Sure we are.

You don't have to like the person or agree with the person.

She understands what I'm saying and I understand what she's saying. At least, we are communicating.

Communication simply means caring enough to ensure people understand your words the same way you do.

That brings us back to the word, "paradigm."

Originally, the word was pronounced, "Paradim." And, it was defined as "a pattern, a model or an example by which you are supposed to learn something about the structure of the English language."

Today, those who think they know what it means pronounce the word "paradime," and to them it simply means "a pattern or a model."

If we apply the "caring" and "sharing" attitude to communication, we see how miscommunication takes place.

Using one pronunciation and meaning with a person who uses the other pronunciation and definition clearly causes a "failure to communicate."

So what is the solution? Do not assume you are communicating. Check back to ensure your messages are clear, correct and understood.