Polly Wants a Cracker | The Power of Meaning Transfer

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Noel Pinnock, Contributing Writer | Communication is one of the most important indicators of success.  Our success factor increases when we have open and effective communication. Most people mistake communication with speaking.  Therefore, I would like to accentuate the stark difference between the two. According to the Webster’s Dictionary, to talk is one’s ability to speak in order to give information or express ideas or feelings, while communication is the transmittal of a message by one person to another through a common system of symbols, sounds, signs or behaviors. Human language can be defined as a system of symbols (sometimes known as lexemes) and the grammars (rules) by which the symbols are manipulated. The word language also refers to common properties of languages.

Effective verbal or spoken communication is dependent on a number of factors and cannot be fully isolated from other important interpersonal skills such as non-verbal communication, listening skills, and clarification. Clearly, anyone that has the slightest cognitive ability can talk, but very few people have mastered the art of communication. Simply put, a well-trained parrot can talk to you but cannot communicate with you.   The parrot cannot provide reciprocity after it has talked to you, but on the flipside, two parrots can communicate with each other through the sharing of common sounds, much like most animals and insects. The challenge is always, whether or not the receiver truly ‘received’ the intended message.

As an adjunct graduate school professor at Springfield College and former Chief Learning Officer for the City of Houston, I always challenge learners of all ages to think about their communication style more deeply, because there is a thin line between poor and effective communication. If you ask any of my current or former students what is my definition of communication, they will respond unanimously, “Communication is the transfer of meaning.” This is simple and to the point, because most people do not fail to talk but fail to communicate or effectively transfer his/her meaning to their intended audience(s). There are a variety of factors that contribute to the inability to transfer meaning successfully, and it is important that we identify and reconcile them if we want to ensure that we do more than just parrot-talk.

  1. The Majority of Communication Is Tone of Voice and Body Language – When you pay close attention to these two factors and monitor voice inflection and body movements, your audience will be better positioned not only to receive the meaning of your message but also respond in a manner that is helpful for you and them.
  2. Choice Words – “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” These are wise words you can read in Proverbs 25:11.  This scripture suggests that words should be carefully selected.
  3. Practice…Practice…Practice – Practice makes perfect, and without failure, there can be no progress. Therefore, be in the continuous improvement business.

The power of life and death is in the tongue.  Therefore, use the gift of communication wisely. After all, Polly may want a cracker, but what you really want to know is…was the cracker good? If your meaning is successfully transferred, then you will not have to ask, because the response will be organic and natural, thus exemplifying the process of effective communication. There is true power in the transfer of meaning.

To read more about Noel Pinnock, B.S., M.P.A., C.A., CCC, IPMA-SCP, please visit www.noelpinnock.com.

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