Don’t Express Yourself – Communicate Instead

Don’t Express Yourself – Communicate Instead

In life, the most important skill is communication. It’s the bottleneck to almost every problem in almost every area of our lives. Effective communication is similar to magic, for it transmutes the unseen concepts in our minds into tangible form, so that they can once again disappear into, and transform, the unseen structures of other minds.


There, however, is a large divide between expression and communication. Expression consists of our raw utterances, free of any translation or refinement. Communication, on the other hand, is expression that has been modified and honed in order to fit into the mental models of an intended audience. It’s expression with empathy.

Most of us are in expression mode most of the time — it’s our default mode of operation. It’s also quite possibly the purest expression of who we are. Through someone’s quick replies and off-the-cuff statements, you can get a sense of their understanding of the world and their place within it. For example, research has shown that those who are introverted tend to speak more precisely, using a highly diverse vocabulary with relatively few social and “positive” emotion words. If we pick up on these patterns, and get a sense of how introverted that person may be, we will likely have a good sense as to how faddish, gossip-hungry, and socially conforming they are.

Our communication to a person of this sort shouldn’t be filled with pleas to “fit in” or stories about how Mark, our new coworker, is thinking about buying a new car. Conversation like this isn’t communication; it’s mere expression, since it doesn’t fit well with the values and mental models of the audience. Expression, after all, can be quite draining to attend to, since it’s often like listening to a subway car screeching down the tracks or the incomprehensible chatter of crickets in the night. Enduring messages that conflict with our values is probably one of the more frustrating, even infuriating, experiences in life.

Unfortunately, life is filled with value-conflicted expression, which is one of the leading causes of conflicts in personal and romantic relationships, and between and within teams at work. The guys in finance will use a much different vocabulary and set of mental models as compared to the people over in HR or design. Nothing is more alienating to designers than questions about the “Return on Investment (ROI)” of a re-design, or other chatter about the “marginal benefit” of a new visual flourish or new logo. But these are the rifts that poison organizations and cause fractionation and alienation.

Luckily, we humans have been endowed with gifts of impulse control and imagination. While it may not always be easy, it’s possible for us to tighten the reins on our runaway mouths and take a moment to think about what language and metaphors others will understand. By slamming the brakes on our impulse to yammer, we can buy ourselves enough time to get into the Euclidean minds of those guys in finance. We can reframe our message just enough to get it to lodge in the gray matter of our audience, instead of going in one ear and out the other — into the great graveyard of gab, where most words lie.

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Matthew Yglesias and moderator Charles Duhigg explore the idea on Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Is immigration key to bolstering the American economy? Could having one billion Americans secure the US's position as the global superpower?

Keep reading Show less

Mystery anomaly weakens Earth's magnetic field, report scientists

A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.

Satellite data shows a new, eastern center emerging in the South Atlantic Anomaly.

ESA
Surprising Science
  • "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
  • The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
  • The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.
Keep reading Show less

The surprising future of vaccine technology

We owe a lot to vaccines and the scientists that develop them. But we've only just touched the surface of what vaccines can do.

Videos
  • "Vaccines are the best thing science has ever given us," says Larry Brilliant, founding president and acting chairman of Skoll Global Threats. From smallpox, to Ebola, to polio, scientists have successful fought viruses and saved millions of lives. So what's next?
  • As Covaxx (formerly United Neuroscience) cofounder Lou Reese explains in this video, the issue with vaccines is that they don't work against "non-external threats." This is a problem, especially now when internal threats (things that cause cancers, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses) are killing people more than external threats like viruses.
  • The future of vaccine tech, which scientists are already working toward today, is developing safe vaccines to eradicate these destructive internal agents without harming our bodies in the process.


Keep reading Show less

Think everyone died young in ancient societies? Think again

In fact, the maximum human lifespan has barely changed since we arrived.

Photo by Juliet Furst on Unsplash
Surprising Science

You might have seen the cartoon: two cavemen sitting outside their cave knapping stone tools. One says to the other: 'Something's just not right – our air is clean, our water is pure, we all get plenty of exercise, everything we eat is organic and free-range, and yet nobody lives past 30.'

Keep reading Show less
Technology & Innovation

Why social media has changed the world — and how to fix it

MIT Professor Sinan Aral's new book, "The Hype Machine," explores the perils and promise of social media in a time of discord.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast