The world we live in today presents us with more challenges to effective communication than at any time in history.
Modern electronic devices, the speed at which most people live their lives, and cultural challenges in a shrinking global economy provide daily examples of the problems we increasingly face in effectively communicating with each other.
Studying the problem has been a large part of my work for years. Whether it was on a submarine, a ship or in a shop, communications are at the heart of most conflict and loss of efficiency. Since we are all taught basic communications skills from the time we are young children, why does this end up being such a problem?
Frankly, if we want to learn how to communicate more effectively, we can learn a lot from a duck.
When we simplify the way we approach communication and look at the basics behind it, we can improve our won understanding and help others. There are three parts:
Think like a Duck
- Understand the communications process and understand barriers to communication
Act like a Duck
- Learn better ways to listen (including listening with your eyes)
Be the Duck
- Take positive steps towards more effective communications
Ducks have a relatively simple motive for communication
Without effective communication, they become someone else’s dinner. In many of our own personal situations, that is probably also true but not so much on as grand of a scale. The duck instinctively or by training knows how the communication cycle works. They hear a certain type of call and intuitively know how to respond. Whether it’s a meal call, a come back call, a danger call or a mating call, the duck doesn’t need to do much interpretation. It responds to the appropriate signal (most times with a call of its own – feedback)
People have made it a bit more complicated
Through a much more aggressive adaptation and evolution, we have added many parts to the puzzle. the following is an example of how communication occurs in an uncluttered world:
Source: Duck 1 thinks it is time for feeding
Encoding: Duck 1 issues the appropriate call and the message is shared in a way that Duck 2 should hear it
Decoding: Duck 2 recognizes the call and adds value to it (Food Time). A response is sent as feedback (“Okay, I’ll be right there”) and the sending duck knows that communication is complete.
If for some reason Duck 1 does not get a response, chances are it will continue to signal until it is satisfied all efforts to communicate are complete.
The field of experience is a sum total of a ducks life
The things it has learned, what it instinctively knows as a duck, experiences that have happened and the environment all make up how the duck knows to send and receive messages. Assuming the receiving duck has a similar field of experience, they probably communicate with ease and little frustration. Life isn’t always that simple though as illustrated in the following diagram:
The added lines are called perceptional screens
These screens are unintentional in most cases but result from the various experiences and interpretations of the sender and the receiver. They can change the scope or purpose of the message and result in miscommunication and confusion. As stated earlier, this can be fatal to a duck so simplification is always the rule of thumb.
Finally, there are other things that can affect effective communications
The first two pictures assume that the ducks are communicating on a lovely sunny day with only the sounds of a babbling brook quietly playing in the background. If only life were so simple. More often than not, it actually looks like this:
That’s right: NOISE is all around us as we try to communicate
The noise comes in many forms. Other ducks using the same airspace to communicate, other birds and animals, noise pollution of all kinds including people, planes, cars, highways, factory noise and on and on. Internal noise from conflict, prejudices, biases, emotions, lack of trust, lack of training, fear of failure, fear of success and on and on. Even with the duck’s close held need for survival, they are bombarded with all of the same environmental issues that people are. Ducks just seem to have a more focused ability to screen the noise out.
Think like a Duck
Eliminate as much of the clutter as you can and keep your communications simple. Anticipate that there may be perceptional screens and noise that will hinder your communications.
Act Like a Duck
Practice active listening. Listen more than you talk. Provide feedback but not every few seconds. Keep the conversation focused. Make sure your delivery speed is appropriate to the message, vary your tone and volume. Remember that there is a difference between hearing and listening.
Be the Duck
You own the responsibility for effective communications and have to assume it will take some work even with the best of circumstances. Check for understanding and offer clarification. Don’t ignore others concerns or signs of confusion. Body language becomes like another set of “ears” to review how well the message is understood. It can also be true that in sending, your own body language is key to presenting your message.
The message is clear
Our survival is linked to the way we communicate. You have a choice to make when it comes to something even this simple. Hopefully seeing this illustrated in a way that the ducks would approve can help you improve your own skills. Now let’s get quacking!
Royal Order of the Duck
The Royal Order of the Duck had its beginnings in the late 1900’s in a hospital near Detroit Michigan. Several locals found a wounded duck and helped to nurse him back to health. As the duck continued his travels, he found others who were similarly afflicted and he started to try and share the lessons he had learned along the way.
As of today, there are only four people who are officially listed as members of the Royal Order of the Duck (the list is purposely kept secret). The stories shared here are meant to spread the message of hope and remind people that sometimes you have to act like a duck and let the world’s stuff just roll off your back.