When we try to learn communication through books available in the market, most of the content is based on a scientific approach. In fact, it seems that research is the most commonly used tools when it comes to studying subjects of interest in various fields of study. Most of us tend to trust research, and I am not implying that there is anything wrong with trusting the findings and conclusions of research. Rather, I believe that communication – like most things in life – depends more on our life experiences than on scientific research conducted under controlled conditions. This is especially so for communications, which is a multi-faceted form of study. If research is the primary tool to understand communication, think about how many research has to be done just to understand the communication dynamics between a parent and their child (to mention the child’s siblings with their diverse personalities).
I am thus proposing that we learn communication through our life experiences. Although our life experiences are diverse and varied, we often come to the same conclusion of certain situations. Just think about how we deal with a break-up, divorce and securing a job through an interview. Although our culture and life circumstances are different, the emotional journeys that we go through are the same. And it can be inferred that we share similar thoughts and communication process to get through it. The findings of researches often confirm this when they provides a graph showing the commonality of the emotional journey that we went through, akin to the process of culture shock that we experience when we are in another country. Regardless of which culture or country that we come from and regardless of our destinations, the process of culture shock is always the same.
Therefore, to understand communication, we need to understand human nature, which is of a more important concern when it comes to understanding the intrinsic details of the communication process than research (which is useful for identifying trends but not as useful at exploring details, which when it comes to communication studies, involves the study of each and every individual). In fact, understanding human nature should be the way to understand communication over research. Human nature forges the path to our understanding of communications, while research subsequently serves to confirm it. Yes, at least when it comes to the understanding of our communication process, research is subservient to the understanding of human nature. I believe that the same can be said of psychology where we often learn more from direct observation than from research.
We can also see the advantages of learning through an in-depth understanding of human nature over scientific research in other areas of our lives. Consider sales and marketing. Recent research has discovered that different customers feel differently about different products and while they may sound positive in the surveys that they have participated, their actual sentiments are actually negative in actuality. This example clearly exemplifies the fallacies of using scientific research, in this case surveys. However, if we understand human nature, we will have an awareness that every individuals are different and their responses to surveys are usually determined more by personality (i.e. a person who is more cautious and afraid of offending others will probably give a more positive response) than by choice. Hence, understanding each customers’ personalities and characters is the key to successful sales, which is a fact commonly understood more by frontline customer service staff (in their daily interactions with customers) than senior management. And it’s only through the understanding of human nature can a complete or near-complete understanding of all the customers come to fruition. Research methods will fail miserably here since all if not most research methods assume a certain degree of uniformity in their subjects, which is often not the case
Unfortunately, research has often been the preferred method in most forms of study even till today. Understanding people, communication and issues through human nature has not always been accepted in the academic circles, and I believe that much can be attributed to the fact that the topic of human nature relates closer to psychology and philosophy, which are the humanities. And for reasons that are still unknown, science has always been the tool that has been used by most societies to understand life rather than its counterpart: the arts. One primary reason may be due to the fact that science has always been an objective form of study (a factor that seldom goes unnoticed in the academic circles and which is highly valued) while arts has always been subjective. We can probably infer from this conclusion that as human beings, we almost always want to search and settle for uniformity rather than differences (except when it comes to looking for a romantic/lifetime partner, that is. Despite this, some similarities are still required for the relationship to blossom, yes?). This probably also explains why change is difficult for us (despite the fact that change may be the only constant in life) and that individualistic individuals such as the creatives (who often do not have a tendency to conform) are sometimes seen in a somewhat negative light by some collectivistic societies. It is ironic then that when society demands for more creativity, it is the arts that people turn to (since being creative is through the use of the right brain hemisphere), and not the sciences.
Thus, the next time we step into the bookstore to look for some books of interest, it’s best to ask ourselves if what we need to know can be answered by our life experiences. If so, it’s best we engage in some related activities rather than picking up a book to read (For instance, if we wish to learn about swimming, wouldn’t it better for us to enroll in a swimming course rather than reading book?). Reading is a good habit to inculcate since books educate, entertain and inform. However, let’s not read our way through life.
Let’s live through life.
In my next post, “Words are equally powerful as body language and tone of voice“, I will discuss an alternate perspective on our understanding or rather, assumption of the importance of words in communication.