The Effective Communicator
Communication Through Contract
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
Life is a series of agreements. We live and work with multiple personal and working relationships. Each of these relationships involves a complex pattern of communication. Each aspect of each relationship is continually negotiated. Each aspect and each negotiation is an instance of communication.
Agreement is another word for contract. Most "contracts" are informal. But ideas change, plans develop. When one person's idea changes in such a way that it affects others, others need to be informed. We have heard phrases related to this: "Keep in touch," "Let me know how it develops," "Keep me in the loop," "Send us a memo on that."
For example, a committee meets. Work assignments are given. Members begin working on their specific assignments: drawing pictures, conducting research, gathering materials, enlisting participants. Meanwhile the chairman has been thinking and his idea gradually changes. He goes on with his new ideas and leaves the others hanging, ignoring what they previously agreed on, discounting their efforts. When the committee comes back together, there will be hurt feelings, resentment, resistance, discouragement.
We all reflect on needs, approaches, programs, structure. If one member, even the leader, fails to keep in touch, fails to communicate effectively with other members in the work group, the whole group is affected adversely to one degree or another. The committee chairman, ministry director or task force leader must keep every one updated if he is to be effective.
Thus we are in effect continually renegotiating the contract. This may be informal but is quite complex. Consensus in the work group comes about because of communication which facilitated updates of the group contract.
This occurs even in informal conversation: For example, I was in a group once for a dinner. Some of us were jokingly speaking of some philosophical concept. I think it was about people saying "I know..." when they were really mistaken. Someone asked a question "Can you know something that is not true?"
Someone not involved in the discussion said, said in a very authoritative tone: "Let's cut out this nonsense and talk about something sensible." He didn't negotiate. He put himself in opposition to the rest of the group. He cut off or prevented communication. He created resentment. He – in short – was not an effective communicator.
The topic of discussion was a serious philosophical question, a real logical problem for anyone who takes his language seriously. But this shallow person had no discernment, and inadvertently showed his ignorance by usurping authority over the free discussion of the whole group. As you might imagine You can imagine this shut down all conversation for a few minutes.
Negotiating The Contract
How could he have handled this differently? First of all, he could have acknowledged those discussing the current question as viable human partners in life by negotiating a conversation contract with them. He might have said something like this:
"I can't follow what you are talking about. Are you serious or just joking? Can you clarify what you mean?" Or more radically, "I don't think this conversation is involving most of the group. Could we talk about something else?"
The Effective Communicator never discounts or despises those he or she wants to communicate with. The Effective Communicator considers every individual as a viable human partner in the various processes of life and work. It is difficult to communicate with someone you cannot respect.
Why is it that even in Christian work contexts we violate our contracts with our partners by striking off on our own. We would save energy and maximize our effort if we informed others involved when our ideas affect the joint efforts, plans or relationships within the group. Negotiated ideas become the group's ideas. Informed partners are involved partners. Involved partners are committed partners. Committed partners are motivated partners.
The Effective Communicator continually negotiates his contracts through updated communication.
First published in the series The Effective Communicator in Focus on Communication Effectiveness, a cross-cultural communications newsletter, Nairobi, Kenya, June 1997
This revised version first posted on SLRK 13 October 2008
Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 1997, 2008 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.