At the Heart of the Matter

We have a communication problem. I seem to hear that a lot these days. In fact, seldom does a day go by without someone saying something to me about there being a communication problem. Every time I hear those words, I’m reminded of that popular line in the movie Cool Hand Luke; “What we have here is a failure to communicate”.

But just how often do people really stop and think about what that means? Does it mean something like I’m not getting what I want; therefore, you must not be hearing me? Or does it mean that you made a mistake because I failed to share with you the information in a way that you would obviously know what was expected? Just what does it mean to communicate? And how do you as an educator make certain that communication is really happening.

In the working environment of a professional Extension educator, communication is at the heart of everything we do. Learning cannot take place without some form of communication. In fact, only through communication, two-way communication, can we be certain that education has taken place. In this meaning of communication it is critical that the parties involved must be engaged in some form of give and take until there is an understanding that what the sender of the message has intended has actually been understood by the receiver and the receiver has then provided the necessary feedback to the sender to demonstrate this understanding.

Thus the role of the Extension professional (educator) takes on a facilitative aspect of managing the process for this type of communication to happen. This process will need to involve clarifying questions to help the individuals involved reflect upon their own messages and meanings and active listening to help people hear what they just said through someone else’s ears . The Extension professional educator will need to check out what inferences and assumptions are being held by the sender and reflected in the comments being made. The Extension professional educator will need to make certain the words being used has common shared meanings for all individuals involved. And, if there is a decision needed in the exchange, the Extension professional educator needs to make certain that all individuals involved have the same understanding and expectations of that decision.

While these functions may be the most common functions of an Extension professional educator there will most likely be several other facilitative functions needed by the Extension professional educator as well. Thus the facilitative role needed to assure that communication is taking place is an important and necessary skill for the Extension professional educator. By using this skill effectively, the Extension professional educator is creating the maximum opportunity for learning that may lead to a transformation of the learners involved; including the Extension professional educator.

Hopefully, you can see how important that communication is to the educational process. And, in reality, almost any conversation, if facilitated effectively, can be a learning opportunity. So the next time someone says we have a communication problem, think about how you need to facilitate that situation to bring about common understanding and learning. By doing so, we have a true understanding of how communication is at the heart of the matter.

Until next time, keep listening for understanding and asking for clarification and working for better communications.