Too many educated people believe that “communication” stands for giving speeches and writing communiqués “to pass the message”; or filling empty heads with nagging, brain-washing, “news”.
Other savants, abstract mechanic boxes and arrows to broadcast bits and pieces of “information” transmitted from A to B and injected through imaginary piping, funnels and needles of “media”.
Add to this some arrogant ignoramuses at the top of multinationals, confusing communication between humans who take part in it with power-point diagrams and “timelined” wordy “plans” resulting in “correct messages” parroted downwards upon increasingly cynical “audiences” of “targets”. This is the fig-leaf of post-industrial tyranny.
If you aspire instead to gain mastery of communication with people, keep away from all this nonsense. Such mechanical beliefs put the communicating mind to sleep. They prevent communication, the communion creating movement of meaning, to come alive, create social reality and so have the amazing impact of “doing things with words” .
To help people who care to go beyond dead communication “strategies” and “plans” and clumsily formulated “messages”, I would represent communication in a few incomplete, humble but essential, aphorisms:
Communication takes place when:
- you have something to make known and understood, of interest to other people or when other people have something to witness, of interest to you
- you discern the radical difference between expressing what you need to say and conveying something with a purpose to make things happen, to affect peoples’ hearts and minds
- you understand that who you are, your actions, that which can be seen and felt of you, speaks irresistibly, louder than any possible words
- you know that you only make a difference when you are recognised as credible and well intended, when you look around and observe the occasion and “where people’s mind is” (to start from there) before you try to change their mind
- when what you are about to do, seems meaningful and the way you decide, your interests, appear transparent (or opaque, that is telling too)
- when you understand that, like tango, communication needs a partner, ideally a dialogue; half of what you communicate comes from the understanding of those receiving it
- when you use words and image crafted to fit the people here and now, with arguments that make sense locally, leading to mind-size conclusions which people can own and feasible action they can start “next thing”
- when you are able to show, point, cause to be tasted and experienced instead of just “speaking about”
- when, before you speak, write, report or debate, you do your homework: study, inform yourself and find out, in order to be knowledgeable – that is the less visible but core part of “communication”
- when you think - to decide each time before you speak - if and why you will talk, to whom, in what way, with what purpose
- if you look or don’t look into people’s eyes when you speak to them or when they speak to you (because you are aware of cultural differences)
- when you listen or you don’t (both are powerful signals)
- you understand and practice the power and the skill of keeping silent, saying nothing, for a moment or for good
- you just listen attentively, wait and let other people speak, aware that this is an important undertaking, worth to be given time
- you listen actively, mindful to find something out or to learn
- you hear and understand what is said (without which communication is wasted, noise)
- you participate, walk the mile in the shoes of one who addresses you
- you observe that things are “telling” – on purpose or unawares - more than with words uttered, you consider what is said but also what is not said, missing
- you build trust and grant trust and encourage people to open up and share what is on their mind and what they know – to create a climate of communication
- you create environments and occasions for people to share experiences, agree on meanings, where people learn to talk to each other and do things in concert
- your interactions cause people to agree, believe, hope and achieve
In sum: competent communication is when you knowingly create occasions and encounters and do meaningful things, to share meaningful things, in ways that make people belong to a community of knowing and of action.
 How to do Things with Words: The William James Lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955, 1962 (eds. J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisà), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962