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The Communication Model 

One of the "ground rules" Randy Revell uses in the 21st Century Leadership course is to follow a "communications model" whenever appropriate during the course. I actually extend this past the course to any conversation where misunderstanding is a danger. I am most conscious of using this mode when I disagree with someone's points of view.

Here is the model:

  1. Perceptions. Much confusion results from blurring the line between perceptions and interpretations. No one can disagree with the fact that I have certain perceptions. For example: I notice you use the word "jerk." I see you're wearing a red shirt. I smell the perfume that you're wearing. I hear you pausing several seconds before replying to me. These are all perceptions, very close to the source of my data about reality, made through the use of my five senses.
  2. Interpretation or judgment. This is what I personally am imagining is true based on the data from my perceptions. I do not present it as The Truth. Instead, I own it as my personal interpretation. For example: I judge that you are angry. I think you aren't paying attention to what I'm saying. I think you look fat in those pants. These are all interpretations, not perceptions and not The Truth.
  3. Feelings. Do you feel happy, sad, closer, more distant, angry, afraid? It's common for the casual English speaker to confuse thoughts with feelings. Any time you say "I feel that..." you are likely about to communicate a thought, not a feeling. Avoid using "I feel" to communicate thoughts. Use "I think," "I judge," "I believe," or even "the story I make up around that is..." (since that's really what you're doing anyway).
  4. Intention. What, if any, change do I intend to create as a result of this? Much of the time, my intention is to vindicate my own point of view rather than to help you in any way. If this is true, be honest about it. Much of the time, my intention is to sell you on my point of view about you. If this is true, I consider my deeper intention. Is it to promote growth and learning, or simply so I can be right about my point of view? If there is no intent to help, abandon the communication.

If you're having difficulty with the difference between perception and interpretation, bear in mind that all the right/wrong, good/bad emotion stems from the interpretation. One great exercise to try is this: make up several different interpretations that all fit the data you perceive. Make up interpretations, all based on the same event or data, that result in your feeling:

  • angry
  • sad
  • righteous indignation
  • surprised
  • delighted
  • bursting with hysterical laughter

You may soon realize that your feelings are a result of the positions you take, not the events that happen.

Richard Brodie
October 1999

Last Edited: March 19, 2008
© 1996-2008 Richard Brodie. All rights reserved.

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