Is it really difficult to communicate effectively? Or do people just over complicate the matter, will tuning your communication skills help?
In the late 1950s Noam Chomsky completed his Ph.D. thesis Transformational Grammar. In it he explained that there are three processes by which people make sense of the world; Deletions, Distortions and Generalisations. These processes help us to create reality as we perceive it – because that’s all reality ever is – our perception.
Our perceptions are limited by the amount of information we can hold in our awareness at one moment in time. The American psychologist George Miller wrote a paper in 1956 that stated that we can only handle “seven, plus or minus two” bits of information at any one time and that we delete the rest. It is interesting to note what different people delete or retain – this is one of the factors that make us all so unique. What is it that you filter in or filter out of your awareness in any given context?
For example: Someone walks over to you right now and gives you a kiss on the lips. This leads to a very interesting and complex series of processes that mainly occur beyond your conscious awareness:
You have the experience of being kissed.
You have a number of sensations as you feel the contact of their lips upon yours, you may hear the sound or their breathing, smell their perfume or aftershave, taste their lips, see them or some other image in your mind's eye if you have closed your eyes, hormones will be released and you will generate an emotional response.
You make meaning from those sensations.
You automatically find words to describe and understand the pictures, sounds, feelings, taste and smells.
Finally you make meaning from those words.
By the time you have created a meaning for the words you choose, you have exercised a number of generalisations, distortions and deletions. You will have generalised what a kiss means, comparing it with other kisses you have had, and the appropriateness of kissing in this particular context. You will have deleted many of the sensations you experienced because you will be aligning them to the meaning you have given the kiss. You will also have distorted what you experienced to align with the meaning. This could be anything from the pleasurable feelings of being loved or aroused, or feelings of anger and disgust at your personal space being invaded. What happens when you attempt to describe your experience to someone else? How much do you think they really understand?
Should you want to describe the experience to another person you would use only the words that you chose based on what you filtered in or out of the actual experience. It is estimated that you would only be giving about 2-7% of the details. Your listeners will then have to make up the rest based on their own filters and experience. Or if they are a skilled communicator they may be able to question some of your deletions, distortions and generalisations.
The map is not the territory it represents
The way we filter information by generalising, distorting and deleting gives us our individual map of the world, our way of choosing to experience life. ‘The map is not the territory it represents’ said Korzybski, the Polish-American philosopher and scientist, argued that every person has his or her unique configuration of whatever they intend to say or portray, and that understanding the non-verbal cues facilitates the dialogue or understanding of the unconscious mind of the person.
The only way we can tell what someone’s map of the world is like is by listening to the words, watching their non-verbal communication and calibrating the whole message that they are conveying, when describing their experience.
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