Alex Stockwell

UX, DevOps, Fatherhood, Miscellany. Not in that order.

Sending and Receiving

You could read this awesome blog post, or you could go read the (much longer and much less exciting) Wikipedia entry on this subject: Communication Theory.

This was one of the most valuable things I took away from college, and was ironically taught in one of those “throwaway” business communications gen-ed classes. Don’t dismiss the awful orange textbook with the stick figures!

In a conversation, at any time (hopefully), one person is talking and one is listening. The talker = the sender, for the purposes of distilling this theory. They’re sending their thoughts/gossip/bold-faced lies to the other person–the receiver. So, the theory goes that communicating anything is the responsibility of both parties:

The sender should -

  • properly craft the message so it’s understandable
  • be aware of who they’re talking to
  • confirm that what they wanted to get across actually was received

The receiver should -

  • listen
  • summarize/ask questions/basically confirm their understanding
  • respond

The big “But”

There are cultural differences in how this theory is regarded. “Western” societies (ESPECIALLY the U.S.) are primarily receiver-oriented - e.g. it’s all on the receiver to understand what’s going on and to let the sender know if they don’t follow anything. Basically the sender is absolved of all responsibility in our country. Contrast that with “Eastern” societies, which are primarily sender-oriented, and where people will go to great pains to ensure you understood their point as they intended it.

I think this is unfortunate for us, because how many times have you been in a conversation (or much more often, gotten a voicemail or e-mail) where there is some kind of out-of-context demand/request/question/statement, that obviously took the sender 15 seconds to dust off, and you have to wrack your brain for 10 minutes, search your inbox, revisit your notes, and basically reassemble the same state of mind that the sender already reassembled, but neglected to share with you, in order to take appropriate action. BAM. 2x the necessary effort is expended, every time this happens (millions of times a day, no doubt) for absolutely NO BENEFIT. Score one for the superior western way of doing things.

I try to take the time to explain myself in my correspondence, if only to alleviate some of the burden when I’m already asking someone for something, and I would challenge you to do the same.