Our ability to communicate in an understandable way is the determining factor to positive or negative life experiences. Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings. Misunderstandings lead to communication breakdowns. Lack of communication limits our growth.
My visit to Australia was a life changing adventure. The memories are still burned into my thoughts. I talk about my adventures whenever the opportunity arises. One of my favorite experiences was my scuba diving adventure on the Great Barrier Reef.
My adventure began in the resort town of Cairns. The weather was perfect and the views of the ocean were spectacular. My charter boat trip to the reef was amazing. The crew made me feel like someone special. I had planned to snorkel until one of the crew asked me, “Do you want to scuba?” I responded, “I’m not certified.” They told me that they could train me.
Going scuba diving was one of my dreams, so I jumped at the opportunity. I was fitted for a wet suit. I was fitted for all of my scuba gear. I went through a brief class on how to scuba dive, how to use my equipment, dangers to avoid, and how to communicate underwater. Yes, communicate. We wouldn’t be able to talk with our instructor underwater, so we were taught a series of hand gestures.
Some of the gestures were as follows:
- Thumbs up meant that I wanted to return to the surface.
- Thumbs down meant that I was ok to go deeper.
- Putting my thumb and index finger together to make a circle and holding my other three fingers straight up meant that everything was ok.
- If I wanted to go in a certain direction, I was supposed to point to my eyes first. Then I was supposed to point in the direction that I wanted to go. Next, I would wait for the ok sign from my instructor.
- Putting my hands on top of each other and clasping my fingers together with my thumbs out wiggling meant that I saw a sea turtle.
- Holding my hand in front of my face with my thumb touching my nose meant that I saw a clown fish.
- Holding my hand against my forehead with my fingers sticking up like a fin meant that I saw a shark.
My first dive went well. I was underwater for over thirty minutes. I was diving with an underwater camera that I purchased for my adventure. I took pictures of everything, including myself. When I was directed to return to the surface, I was a little sad. I wished that I had had more time.
As I got back on the boat, my guides asked about my adventure. I toldt hem it was great. Then they asked me another question, “Do you want to do it again?” I took me a half a second to say yes. The boat went to a new location on the reef and I was back in the water again. During the dive, I saw a giant sea turtle. I notified my instructor. I was given approval to swim near it and take a picture. I saw a giant clam and followed the same procedure. Then, I saw a clown fish. I alerted my instructor and I got a reaction that I didn’t expect. Her eyes grew large and huge amounts of bubbles came from her respirator. She shook her head no. I asked again and my instructor began looking around franticly. This is when I realized that I was giving the gesture for shark. We were in an area where sharks lived and the instructor’s job was to keep us safe.
After recognizing my mistake, I waved my hands and made the proper gesture for clown fish. I pointed in the direction of the clown fish. My instructors face communicated relief. I took my picture and finished my dive. When we returned to the boat, we laughed about my miscommunication. My instructor said that it was easy to confuse the gestures when you get excited. She then gave me a great piece of advice, “Think before you say something!”
Communication isn’t just verbal. People communicate verbally and non-verbally. People can write to communicate. Ideas and emotions can be communicated via voice tone and body language. Eye contact can display a variety of feelings. Communication is a skill people possess and use every day. Sadly, it is not something we work on everyday.
There are countless studies that say that 80% of all communication is non-verbal. You will spend your entire life communicating with other people. This can be done face to face, via e-mail, by text message, over a telephone, or through hand gestures and body language. Being an effective communicator greatly affects your ability to live your dreams.
Communication is the process of exchanging information, feelings, or ideas from a sender to a receiver. If one or both of the parties performs poorly during the process, misunderstandings will occur. The key is to perform the process effectively. I recommend that you always practice this important skill.
In this time of e-mails, mobile phones, text messages, and social media; communication isn’t getting better. In fact, it is getting more difficult to understand one another. If you really want to improve your communication skills, I recommend try these three things:
1. Don’t let technology be your crutch.
Humans are social creatures. Technology has facilitated and impeded our social skills. It’s easy to use technology, but technology doesn’t allow a person to display emotion or other non-verbal forms of communication.
At some point, you have to meet other people face-to-face. There will be no keyboard or keypad to assist you. Make the time to talk to friends and family in person. Create opportunities to be in the presence of other humans. The more you practice, the better you will become.
2. Take an Interpersonal Communication class.
When I was in college, Public Speaking 101 was a requirement to graduate. Supposedly, I would learn to be a more effective communicator. That was false. The class teaches you how to speak in public. Speaking in public is the number one fear of people around the world. Most people will never speak in front of a large group in their life.
When I was a college educator, I told all of my students to take Interpersonal Communication 101. I took the same class when I was a student. The class truly taught me how to communicate. My instructor was amazing. She told her students that we would communicate with others the rest of our life. She taught her students verbal and non-verbal communication.
The students were taught how to communicate one-on-one, in small groups, and in large groups. These are the activities that you’ll be participating in your entire life.
3. Take an acting class.
I’m not recommending that you become an actor, but you can learn so much about communication by taking a class or two. In acting, you learn how to display and read emotions. You become competent in the art of communication. You interact with other people. You learn how to display thoughts and emotions verbally and non-verbally.
I suggest you record your practices. It is amazing how you may believe you are displaying a certain emotion and your audience reads it differently. See is truly believing. Acting is an art and skill where the better you communicate the more you are rewarded.