How to Communicate Like a Human

February 28, 2017
Updated: March 5, 2017

“The ability to speak does not make you intelligent.”
―Qui-Gon Jinn

We take communication for granted. Just because you can speak does not mean that you can communicate. Everyday, we use whatever media is available to convey ideas, messages, and absurdities to one another. However, we don’t really bother to put attention to how we communicate—as long as the question of what are we communicating is answered, we’re satisfied.

An effective communication happens when a message is conveyed as a means to reach a desired goal. Due to its goal-based approach, it doesn’t matter if the communicator communicated more than what he intended. When you use a tank to kill a single mosquito, it is effective.

An efficient communication happens when the exact amount of message is conveyed—no more; no less. An example is when someone gives accurate instructions to someone to do something, to a tee. This does not leave room for errors on the communicatee.

In this article, I’m going to discuss how to approach communication in a human way. This deviates from the psychopathic methods of contemporary textbooks about communication. In a corporate or business setting, it is far too common to see everyone communicating to one another like a bunch of rabid hyenas in a steel cage—sterile and without compassion.

Spoken language

We learned how to speak first, before we learned how to write; this speaks a lot about how primordial verbal communication is. This comes at a price, though: it is both easy to use and misuse. When someone gives you a compliment, that impression lasts for a long time. When someone says hurtful words, we carry it for the rest of our lives.

Humans, not machines

When we communicate with machines—whether they are in software or hardware form—we must make accurate correspondence between what our intentions are and what outputs we desire from those inputs will be. The interactions and the results of which, are computable and predictable.

Human beings are vastly different—there is no 1:1 correspondence of instructions and outcomes. Humans are emotional animals. We have evolved from very different circumstances compared to modern computing systems that we have now. When we communicate messages that are exact, we don’t take into account several factors including the variability of interpretation. Just because we clearly understand what we are saying does not mean that the other side of the communication understands it as well as we do. Were we able to sufficiently provide enough background and context to the communicatee? Were we able accurately transfer our mental image of the ideas to the listener? Is he able to construct my thought processes as accurately as I want it to be? If just one of those questions is answered by a no, then we need to reassess how are we communicating.

Accept limitations

When one needs to communicate messages to someone that do not possess the same mental faculties as the communicator, adjustments have to be made. Every one of us process things differently. A chess Grandmaster should bear in mind that when he is teaching a beginner, the student can only understand so much. He can’t go ham and make him understand advanced topics. There is an impregnable wall; that wall only becomes thin with time.

Be tolerant

It is relatively easy to fall into trap wherein our emotions would like to take charge of our communication processes. When we think that what we are communicating is not being assimilated well by the communicatee, we become frustrated and intolerant. When it happens, we push our ideas even harder down the avenue, which further exacerbates the already-dysfunctional communication. When we lack patience, we no longer understand why are we even communicating in the first place.

Written language

Several advancements in writing have been realized for the past decades. We went from handwritten content to computer-driven ones. However, even with all the conveniences of writing, we are still susceptible to not being able to clearly send our messages to our recipients. Written, unlike spoken, language is a different beast altogether.

Be courteous

What’s the difference between “Read the documents.” and “Please, read the documents.”? When the proper words are used, we positively visualize. We imagine in our heads how would the communication take place had it been done on a face-to-face basis. Conversely, when we use words in excess, it creates a strain on the message, completely altering the content. Compare “Go.” with “Go. WTF.”

Use emojis, sparingly

One downside of written communication is that it is very difficult to express emotions, that you want to show. There are occasions when no matter how good the words are, it is still not able to attach our warmth and sincerity to the message. An emoji conveys a message that is uniform across cultures. The image of a happy face conveys the message of a person who exhibits happiness. Humans are able to identify with that image, with ease. But, just like with perfumes, too much is bad.

Use a ! instead of .

The punctuation marks what we use in our messages matter, a lot, whether they are short phrases or complete sentences. This, again, is connected to the way we envision the person who is communicating the messages. Let’s take for example the reply “Got it.” This short message is concise and clear. However, it is also devoid of life—it lacks zest. Compare this with “Got it!” This version is alive. It creates a mental image of a person who is committed and engaged with the conversation.

Body language

When our physical bodies convey messages that are not congruent to what we are speaking, an imbalance occurs. This creates confusion, and sometimes, frustration. If our speech is the sound that comes out of our mouths, our bodies are our shell. Without a stable shell, our messages get lost.

Lean forward

Consider this: as you are communicating with someone, he moves his body away from you. What message does it send you? Compare this with someone, who leans forward to listen to you. What happened is that the mere act of moving forward reduces the distance between the origin of the sound—his mouth to the destination of the sound—your ears. In terms of the speed at which sound travels on average on air, this distance is negligible. However, it means a lot to the one who is speaking. You signal to him that you are committed to receiving his messages. You show that you are actively participating in the conversation.

Display open palms

When we display our palms to the listener, we invoke a sense of participation, one that shows that the one with open palms makes himself vulnerable. This is due in part to our anatomy—our palms are fleshly and sensitive. If the inside of our hands are wounded, our ability to hold and grip things are greatly compromised. When we display our palms, we display openness, we display willingness to learn, we display trust.

Look at the eyes, but do not stare

In face-to-face interactions, nothing is more powerful and subtle than eye contact. Even if no words are uttered, messages are communicated. When someone is speaking to you, maintain eye contact. The trick is not to look directly at the eyes, but somewhere between the bridge, or just a centimeter around the line where the eyebrows meet. To make it more engaging, briefly look on the sides, or downwards, then go back to the eye area. Do not, however, look at other parts of a person’s body during this process—it may signal to him that you are not paying attention to what he is saying.

Miscellany

There are some things that don’t fit in the categories above, and I’ve collected them here instead.

Adapt to every person

Do not take a one-size-fits-all approach—like a T-shirt. Just because your usual method works with another person, doesn’t mean it is right for him. Or, just because you are so used with the communication methods that you use on a daily basis with people that you interact with daily, doesn’t mean that you should use them everywhere. Don’t use your wood saw with iron shackles. Understand what makes a person tick. Know their interests. Do not underestimate the power of small talk.

Listen more

No matter how good we think we are, we need to listen to whoever is communicating with us. Otherwise, why engage in a communication at all, if we are so busy with our hubris that we only want our voices to be heard? Control the urge to interrupt. Don’t hijack the conversation. The more willing you show that you want to listen, the more people will want to talk to you.

Smile

The payload of a smile is not at the instant that the smile was received; it is during our moments of reflection. Smiles create a lasting impact, and they are so potent that it is able to alter an ill perception. A smile conveys lightheartedness, engagement, and happiness. Wear it. Own it. 😄