Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Art of Communication

If indeed you must be candid, be candid beautifully. ~Kahlil Gibran
Pumpkin Spice Latte

At the register:
  • Good morning, welcome to Starbucks can I take your order?
  • Um, yes, I'd like a quad grande pumpkin spice latte, no whip.
  • Ok, your total is $3.79, Cassandra will have that right up for you.
At the bar:
  • Hey, how's it going?
  • Good, how about you?
  • Do you even care?
  • Now, that you mention it, not really, no.
  • I didn't think so. I'm not crazy about you either, mostly because your eyes reveal no intelligent life within. You speak and yet say nothing.
The preceding conversation has never taken place. And yet it takes place every day: People treating people like things. Perhaps its recurrence shouldn't afford the bat of an eye. The Starbucks barista is just like the guy at the tollbooth. He hands you your ticket. You say thank you. Rewind and repeat: 10,000 times a day.

But man (and by man I mean woman) owes it to himself to demand more. Humans have a range of expression that exceeds that of the universe itself. Nuance, passion, undertone, irony, humor, love: The list could go on... We can do all that. For humans, communication can become an art.


Part of communication consists of its words or gestures: its language. Still, even a perfectly crafted message owes dependence to its receiver. Take the famous Japanese game show "Takeshi's Castle." This exquisite show took on a whole new meaning when Spike TV revealed it to American eyes as MXC (Most Extreme Elimination Challenge). Talk about lost in translation.

So obviously it’s also necessary to understand the recipient(s) of a message. Since that’s often impossible, tact is vital. Tact is like smiling: It communicates an idea in a way that everyone accepts and understands.

Good Form

Observe the application of these two ingredients. In the following scene, Don Corleone greets Bonasera in his office on his daughter's wedding day. His communication is smooth, efficient, and effective.

As a Sicilian, Don Corleone cannot refuse favors on his daughter’s wedding day. He’s over the barrel but he leverages the request to get what he wants: respect and family unity. Watch him carefully. Every word he utters works toward his ends. He listens, questions Bonasera’s loyalty, and demands his respect. Words, tone, and body language all flow in unison: The Godfather is a master.

Bad Form

The Internet provides an ideal medium for poor communication. Please observe the result of a message stripped of its artistic value:

  • starfish: worried about dave (stepdad). he had a heart cath today. days like these i wish i believed in a god so i could ask someone to look after him. i hate feeling helpless in these situations : \

  • iamwaldo: Yet you're still happily atheistic?

  • starfish: that's comparable to something ill fated happening to your family & my asking "still happy believing in your god?" sorta tactless
The entire exchange lacks beauty. The Internet lays no claim on lingual accuracy and 'starfish's' reply serves as a fine example. Conversely, 'Iamwaldo' has language down, apostrophe and all, but he has the tact of a staff infection. He doesn’t understand ‘starfish’ and he doesn’t care. His point of view has become more important than the people with whom he shares it.


A master of the communicative form wields a rare weapon. He or she can sense the needs and desires of others and choose to ignore, fulfill, or abuse them. Seduction and manipulation come as easily as kindness and compassion.

Yet regardless of intent, all communication bears the potential to exceed mere information exchange. Treating Cassandra like a person instead of a clever answering machine does more than acknowledge her humanity—It proves your own.

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