Help! My dog doesn’t understand what I am saying.

Help! My dog doesn’t understand what I am saying.

One of the joys of dog ownership is the daily walk to the park to let the dog off the leash so she can have a run and play with many of the other dogs.  Quite often though I see dog owners who have clearly not been trained in the skills of dog ownership, specifically how to get dogs to obey them.  They will repeatedly yell at the dog in the hope that somehow the dog miraculously understands English and obeys their command.  It doesn’t happen, the dog runs off doing what ever interests them at the time. What better way to illustrate the point “the meaning of your communication is the response you get”.   The same is true when humans are communicating with each other.  My work takes me to many different parts of the world, some parts where English is the native language and others where it isn’t. Regardless misunderstandings in communication happen wherever you are, and language may not be the problem, rather as I have found, it is the meaning or the interpretation of what you have said that causes the communication to break down.

Originally developed as a model of electronic communication the Shannon Weaver Model provides an excellent framework for understanding human communication.

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Communication requires a source – a speaker that has some information to transmit – a message.  The speaker translates the information into a code that represents the meaning of what they wish to transmit. Encoding occurs via a filter. This filter represents the speaker’s mental perceptions, vocal mechanisms, muscles, gestures, biases and prejudices.  The message travels via some medium and is decoded at the receivers end through the receiver’s filter. All of this happens in an environment where there is noise – any interference that may affect the clarity and meaning of the transmitted message.  It’s not the message per se, that determines what is understood, rather it’s our filters that determine what part of the message we hear. The field of behavioural economics is replete with examples of how our perceptions misguide our thinking (for examples look  at the work of Kahneman and Tversky, Chabris and Simons, and for a laugh Richard Wiseman).

To improve your communication you need to consider how the receiver of the message will likely interpret what you have said. One tip is to “put yourself in their shoes” and imagine what their perspective or point of view would be. Then think about how your message would be interpreted. If you have time and friendly colleagues at your disposal, ask them to role-play the scenario with you. The feedback they provide should help you tailor your message so it has the impact you want.  As a final thought, go and take dog-training lessons – you will learn a lot about your communication, your behaviour and its consequences and might actually help you get the response you want.

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