Good Communication Begins With An Action Orientation

I spent some time with the grandchildren over the holidays. It is refreshing emotionally and intellectually, but physically, they have more energy than I.

I did notice they are willing to see things new ways. Hopefully they are willing to think more than superficially.

Things are not as they first seem

For example.

  • We discussed 2020 as being a leap year. This year it is not 365 days until your next birthday. Details can change things. From that we came to the discussion of how many months have 28 days. Just one and then only three times each four years, offers one. Not so fast. All the months have 28 days. How many months have 28 days is not the same question as how many months have exactly 28 days.
  • How many lions can you put in an empty cage? Fierce debate about how big the lions are, and how big the cage is. Can they stand on top of each other? None matters. More argument. The clear answer is one. Always one. Because after you put one lion in the cage it is no longer an empty cage. No more can meet the test.

Words have meaning and sometimes our assumptions about meaning leads us to quick, easy, and wrong answers.

Communication is difficult

Drawing meaning from others is never easy. In terms of importance, we each weigh things differently. When we speak we have an image of what we are talking about in our mind and we see only certain aspects of it. Like lions and cages. How those may be observed differently isn’t part of our speaker mandate.

Listening then must be an active skill. We must draw out our own meaning from the information presented. We must fit it to our experience. We must ask questions, because many speakers use pronouns too often. In their mind, they see what they are discussing and assume others do too. Not so. Listeners must drag those factors out and even then they may get it wrong.

Communication matters

When you talk to young children about what is important in life, learning to communicate should be an important part of the discussion. It is two part. Learn how to hear others and learn how to send messages.

Both look passive, but both should be active. When sending, tailor the message to the audience. Be interesting to them. What works for one audience might not work for another. Be aware.

Spoken communication, or even text, is easy enough to understand by how you tailor the message. But what of a book or article? The audience is mostly unknown. There, the key will be clarity. Few pronouns and certainly none with ambiguous reference. Appeal to an active listener or reader. What questions will this passage raise? All good novels leave questions at the end of chapters.

When receiving messages, be asking questions. When some are unanswered, you will have trouble fitting all of the data together. You may need to revisit the article to see if you have missed something. More likely it is poorly written and you should note that. When you see examples, you can more easily correct your own writing.

Be context aware is advice for both senders and recipients. Learn a little about the author. Is their worldview immensely different from yours? What will they take for granted (assume) in their writing that you many not possess. Each of us have certain built in assumptions about thow the world works and it shows. If we are careless, assumptions become axioms and the resulting conclusions become facts. Believing a thing that is not objectively true leads to problems.

History, for example, is written from a viewing point.

“Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters.” African Proverb

Challenge the viewing point to see what is missing. Especially do so if you are reading or listening to political commentary or a sales pitch.


Communication matters. Active listening is a valuable skill. Active sending is about deciding what the audience is willing to learn and how to help them move from where they are now to a new place.

Think about meaning not just the words.

Question for today: How do you treat negative yield bonds for tax purposes?

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