Monday, May 27, 2024


"Communication" has been a topic of conversation at Casa ERJ this past week.

Communication is hard and the biggest roadblock to better communication might be our pride.

Looking at "Communication" at the level of Assembly Language

Person One desires that Person Two be informed of something.

Person One collects a bunch of universal building blocks called "words". For the purpose of this portion of the blog-post, let's call them LEGO blocks. Person One collects them in a basket and then heaves them into the air in the direction of Person Two.

As they fly through the air they collect other words from other conversations. Then they fly through a pinball-machine where they are energized by bumpers and flippers called emotions, recent events, and recent injuries before tumbling onto a moving sidewalk with little bumps-and-depressions that can accept LEGO blocks. Some of them stick.

Person Two infers from the smear of words stuck to the moving sidewalk the trajectory of Person One and mirrors their action, pitching their basket of LEGOs in the direction they guess Person One is moving.

Like naval ships in the age of cannon, Person One and Person Two circle each other trading broadsides and mostly shooting past each other.

Some cannonballs connect and feelings are hurt.

A better way?

Person One's first step is the same as above.

Person Two's response is much different. They have awareness that words are imperfect vessels of information. They realize that the message is tainted, polarized, biased, rotated, bent, folded, mutilated and spindled on its path from sender-to-receiver.

So they CHECK what they think they heard. They describe, in their own words what the smear of LEGOs on their moving sidewalk looks like. More times than not the sender will affirm "Yeah, that is close enough."

The thing about errors in recursive processes (like conversation) is not that they are additive but that they are multiplicative. Sometimes the sender will say "That might be what I said or what you heard, but that is not what I meant."

Emotion and Logic are Orthogonal

In plain English, orthogonal means you cannot get to one by moving along the other. Consider a cold drink sitting on the table beside you. You are thirsty. You cannot reach the cold drink by reaching upward. You have to stretch your arm out sideways. Sideways is "orthogonal" to "Up".

It is pointless to try to solve emotion-driven issues with logic. You cannot get there that way. No matter how long your arm is, you will not be able to reach the cold drink if you stretch it upward.

Needs are emotional. They cannot be "logicked away". If Person One needs physical intimacy after a long absence and Person Two needs a long, soulful conversation then both people are right and both needs need to be addressed with all seemly haste. Note to the younger adults: Conversation is usually the safer choice in the cab-ride from the airport.


Every person carries within them the ability to interact with the outside world as a "Parent", or as an "Adult" or as a "Child'.

Communication is relatively conflict free when the arrows don't cross. That is, when one person is speaking from their "parent" to the other person's "child" and the other person speaks from their "child" to the other's "parent". This is not a pejorative situation. It happens all of the time in line-organizations in time-urgent situations. The coordinator directs the operator what to do. That is the time-and-place for P==>C and C==>P communication.

Communication fails when the arrows DO cross. Person One gives Person Two and order and Person Two wants to discuss it. How can you tell if somebody is talking from their "parent"?

Listen to Mustn'ts, child, listen to the Don'ts.
Listen to the Shouldn'ts, the Impossibles, the Won'ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
      Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.  

-Shel Silverstein

While we would all LIKE to think we speak from our "adult" all the time, often we are channeling the first adults whose persona we absorbed: Our parents' persona as projected toward us when we were young children. It can be devilishly difficult to know when we are channeling our parent and when we are really speaking as an "adult".

One tell is the use of words like "Should", "Not", "Must", "Ridiculous" and so on.

Speaking from the "child"

One of the tells that you (or the other person) is speaking from their child is the use of exaggeration. The "child" feels unheard and not powerful. "Always", "Never", "Huge", "Existential Threat" are words that the powerless "child" uses.

The PAC model is not perfect but it is simple enough to be usable without a spread-sheet and quick enough to be able to use in real-time to redirect conversations that are going into the ditch.


Pride often prevents us from checking the fidelity of the message that we THINK we heard (or think we sent). Often, we get into the habit showing-off our quick-wit by making snappy responses at the cost of high quality communication.

Pride can prevent us from acknowledging when we have regressed and are speaking from our "parent" and not our "adult". Parent==>Child has the potential to cut a lot of arrows and destroy communication.

If you are interested in the PAC communication model, look up "Transaction analysis" in your favorite search engine.


  1. Transactional analysis is one facet, another is asking the other person if they want a sounding board or help finding a solution.

    That, and asking yourself the ultimate question: "Do I want to be RIGHT, or do I want to stay married?"

  2. I don't know Rick; money issues are often a cry for help or attention.

    If you cannot ask serious questions, do you want to be married to that person?

    I've been the sounding board, councilor for more than a few of my soldiers who were amazed how little they "knew" about their spouse. One sadly enough wasn't spending it on eating out alone but crack.

    1. Michael: I know this question is a little bit off the wall, but is your middle initial "Z"?

    2. There is a gentleman/author who goes by the name Michael Z. Williamson. He has a broad range of experiences and I was simply wondering if he had wandered in.

    3. Chuckling, gentleman I can claim fairly, author sorry not that skilled in the art of the pen.

      Military medical career plus civilian medical gives a broad view of many things. That and history is fascinating. We can say history repeats because it's human nature writ large.

  3. ERJ, one additional element added to the new world we live in is that of remote communication. The Sender can create what they think is a perfectly reasonable and thoughtful message and have it completely mis-interpreted by the Receiver due to the simple fact that the words lack the context, nuance, voice inflection, and body language that accompanies face to face conversation. It has gotten to the point that I am almost maniacal about minimizing my language for e-mails at work to short, clear sentances.

    (Sadly, I need to adapt this online as well. I am not half as good at expressing myself in words as I believe I am.)

  4. Why bother? You know people would rather talk than listen.

  5. My experience is: people, mostly, would prefer to talk, than listen.
    People use 'selective hearing' most times. This is followed by:
    Selective memory, where they will remember only what they want to remember. This is complicated by the fact that many words you think you understand the meaning of, takes on a totally different meaning by others. I find it totally amazing that our world is not dissolving in random conflicts over the definition of a period. I have been a salesman, a technician, a manager and a teacher and there are many times I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Therefore, if it isn't in writing, signed, notarized, sealed and in triplicate, it doesn't exist


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