Communication is Full-Time Work

By Bill Hodges

©2000 Hodges Seminars International

Communicating is full-time work, not only for professional writers, seminar leaders and keynoters like me, but for all who must deal with other people. We must therefore be alert to what we are communicating, not only by our words but by our actions as well.

I remember hearing a story years ago about an army recruit who went AWOL. When apprehended, he exhibited extreme fear of Army officials — to the point that he had to be physically restrained. Because of his state of agitation, he was remanded to the care of the psychiatric ward of the post hospital rather than being sent to the guardhouse. Nothing in his medical history, mental or physical, gave a clue as to what drove him to run away. While being interviewed by the psychiatrist, he calmed down enough to explain what sent him over the wall.

The soldier explained that his first few days in the military had been confusing and very stressful. He had to learn a whole new vocabulary and learn to comply without question with the orders of his drill sergeant. The psychiatrist agreed that military life was confusing in the beginning, but he told the soldier that didn’t seem to be enough to send a normally sane man into a fit of frenzy. The soldier said that he could stand the confusion but drew the line at being maimed.

He than related what he considered a bizarre sequence of events. "The first day," he said, "they marched us to the Post Exchange and made each of us buy a comb. The next day, they herded us all to the barber shop and cut off all our hair. The third day it was back to the Post Exchange, this time to buy toothbrushes. Then they sent me to the dentist, who pulled my teeth. It wasn’t until they sent me to the Post Exchange again, this time to buy a jock strap, that I decided enough was enough and went AWOL." The recruit saw a pattern in the actions of the Army that communicated an idea which scared him. It is important, especially when we are dealing with individuals who are new to a situation, that we explain the cause and desired effect of our actions rather than forcing the new person to guess. This is doubly important when the situation is one fraught with high stress, such as the incident in which the young private was involved.

As a final thought—even though we have a responsibility to be good senders of information, we have an equal responsibility to be good information receivers. As a receiver, do not put more emphasis on the actions of the sender than deserved. Do not hesitate to question the sender, when actions and words do not match. Both receiver and sender have a responsibility to ensure that they are tuned to the same frequency if they hope to have clear communications.

Bill Hodges is a nationally recognized speaker, trainer, and syndicated columnist. Hodges may be reached at Hodges Seminars International, P.O. Box 89033, Tampa, FL 33689-0400. Phone 813/641-0816.

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