Saying what you want to say. Being understood or perceived the way you would like to be. Therein lies the challenge of communication and it’s much more than mere words!
Elated Arjun after winning Draupadi in a Swayamvara returned home to the potter’s cottage where Pandavas were living disguised as Brahmins. Yudhisthir, the eldest brother called out to their mother who was cooking and said, “Mother, see what we have brought today.” Kunti, without looking up replied, “Whatever it is, share it amongst yourself.”
Another instance from Mahabharata, where Guru Dronacharya was wreaking havoc on Pandavas with his divine weapons. Arjuna, the only one who could hold him, refused to fight his Guru. Dronacharya’s only weakness was his son Aswathhama. Wily Krishna asked Bheema to kill an elephant with the same name and then convinced Yudhisthir to twist the truth, “Aswathhama hatha (and then he murmured) iti Narova Kunjarova (don’t know whether it’s man or elephant).”
These are fairly well-known instances of miscommunication. While the first one is unintended, the second instance is carefully thought through and deliberated upon. In the first case, Yudhisthir assumed his mother would look up from her cooking before responding, while Kunti assumed it would just be alms or a wild animal that the bothers had hunted down. Thus, Draupadi ended up with five husbands. The second instance led to the victory of Pandavas in the battle of Kurukshetra. History is full of such instances.
In today’s context, where everyone has an opinion thanks to social media, and fake news or misinformation can be spread at the click of a button, communication has become even more challenging. It’s important to understand and be aware that communication is not just about what we say, it’s about how we say and to whom it is said. Expressions, body language, tone – everything forms part of the communication. Basis how the words are said or delivered, the listener or the audience comprehends them. The same words can be understood and interpreted differently by different audience, sometimes the interpretations may be very different from what the speaker or the writer intended it to be. Years ago, in English literature class, while we were critically analyzing Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ our Professor humorously quipped, ‘Keats probably never even imagined that his poem would be open to so many different interpretations.’
An innocent statement can cause lot of damage if not addressed to the right audience. Remember Shashi Tharoor’s ‘cattle class’ tweet. While ‘cattle class’ maybe a common enough jargon in the US, we sensitive Indians found it unacceptable. When you are a public figure or communicating in a public forum it is very important to understand and be aware of these sensitivities and nuances.
Today, technology has changed the whole game of communication. We live on social media where everybody is talking – expressing opinions, knowledge, wisdom or just showing off how cool their lives are. We often forget to listen, we forget the repercussions of the social media, the danger of exposing ourselves too much, of being interpreted in unfavorable manner. And what concerns me more is, while we are talking to everyone, we are forgetting to talk to the person next to us. Walking into a living room or a gathering where each person is focused on his phone or iPad is fairly common nowadays, especially among the younger lot.
I may be old fashioned, but nothing can replace a good chat with a friend over a cup of coffee or a heart to heart chat with a loved one. For it’s not just words, so much is said in between the words or even without. You can say so much just by looking into someone’s eyes or with a smile!!