Eight Steps of Dialogue
Or Difficulty of Being Understood
By Nazar Kostiv
Ah. People. What wondrous creatures these are. And how desperately do they strive to be understood. Truly fascinating.
You are reading these words right now, aren’t you? How do they sound inside your head? Tender? Quiet? Do they have a voice associated with them at all, or does your brain operate with imagery and concepts instead?
Regardless, I think it is a fair assumption that you have taken part in dozens of dialogues throughout your lifetime. And I am gonna ask you to recall a few of them.
One where you could immediately connect to the other person. One where you explored an uncharted territory of thought. One where you couldn’t understand what the other person was saying (or didn’t want to). And one you regret.
Keep these in mind as we continue on our journey here.
Let us assume that we have two educated, healthy, and polite individuals, P1 and P2, taking part in our imaginary dialogue. What needs to occur for them to have a meaningful conversation? Just eight things:
- P1 conjures a thought in their brain through the not yet very well-understood process of electrical signals firing across the neurons
- P1 expresses themselves by transforming the elegant thought they just created into sound waves by contracting the muscles in their mouth
- P2's cochlea vibrates as a result of the fluctuating air pressure
- P2 attempts to make sense of what they have just heard
And then the process is reversed and the communication flows in the opposite direction.
5–8. P2 thinks of a reply. P2 converts their thought into sound. P1 receives the sound signal. And P1 tries to understand it.
A very simple breakdown indeed. We don’t usually think about all of this when we talk. But it uncovers an interesting caveat all dialogue has. If any one of these steps fails, for whatever reason, the dialogue will be robbed of its fullness. The messages will get lost.
The complexity of the issue is further increased when we add more participants to the conversation. Or some steps can’t be achieved due to a health limitation or a language barrier. Age gap, cultural misunderstandings, social expectations, you name it.
What can we derive from this information? How does it benefit us? To answer this question we first need to ask ourselves the goal of our communication.
Whether it is to have a meaningful discussion about the latest discoveries in physics, make a quirky joke at work that everyone will laugh at, or maybe flirt with a person you find interesting. All of these ultimately strive for one thing. Conveying your thoughts clearly to another individual.
The overall success of the information transmission will always depend on all parties involved since some of the steps we have no direct control over. Such as the processes in the other head or their life experience.
But we can adapt our phrasing to suit the situation. We can practise our speaking ability to sound more clear and concise. We can learn to listen in order to understand as opposed to waiting for our turn to speak. We can make a conscious effort to be better.
Now let’s get back to that one conversation you had many years ago that you regret to this day. Why did it hurt? Why didn’t I/you/he/she/they listen? Why are you crying?
“All of us are born here together and we live our lives trying to understand each other, using little bits of reason we accumulate along the way. Striving to find someone to relate to. And when we finally do — it’s already over.” — Hitoshi Iwaaki