Beware of 'Black Hole' in Communication

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There are many times when the particular goal we are striving to achieve requires the co-operation and help of others. On such occasions, it is important that we are able to communicate our wishes effectively to those whose assistance we seek. This seemingly simple task can form a critical stumbling block, especially if communication needs to take into account linguistic and/or cultural differences between ourselves and others.


Communication of ideas in itself is not sufficient. It is essential that we monitor how effectively those ideas have been received. If we have failed to communicate effectively then we have only ourselves to blame for any diminished outcomes.

I will use an example from my own experience to illustrate an occasion when a particular goal of mine failed to be achieved. The lack of success was entirely due to my own false assumption that I had communicated my wishes effectively.

It was the first day of my arrival at my new home - a simple bungalow on the outskirts of a small town in a remote part of northern Nigeria. My arrival had not passed unnoticed, and before I had finished unpacking what few possessions I had brought with me there were voices calling me from outside. Two young lads of primary school age were seeking my attention. I did not know any of their local Hausa language at this stage and they did not seem to understand any English. However, they were able to indicate to me that they were looking for work. Well that was good timing, because whoever the last occupant of the bungalow had been, they had left the walled compound of the bungalow strewn with rubbish. I had plans to try to grow some vegetables in the confines of this compound, safe in the knowledge that the 2-metre high wall would not allow the local free-range goats to have free access to my potential food.

So, I needed to indicate to these young lads what my wishes were and what I would pay them for their work. Words were obviously ineffective in this situation so I took them through to the back compound and picked up several items of rubbish and expressed dislike of it. They also seemed to agree that it was not an asset to the environment. So far so good. I then marked out a large rectangle on the ground and, using a digging hoe that the previous occupant had apparently left behind, I indicated that they should dig within the marked rectangle. Then I gathered some items of rubbish and placed them within the marked area. With a wide sweeping gesture of my arm I then indicated that all the remaining rubbish should follow the same fate. I then returned to my unpacking, confident that one task on my jobs list would be accomplished without much effort on my part.

It was about 30 minutes later that I heard knocking on the back door. The boys evidently required my attention to view their work. I stepped out into the compound expecting to see it free of rubbish and signs of a previously dug hole having been filled in where I had marked out the rectangle.

Well, sure enough, the compound was completely free of rubbish and the whole surface appeared to have been scraped clear with the hoe. An excellent outcome. However, what puzzled me was the sight of a large mound of soil precisely occupying the rectangular shape I had marked out. They seemed to have simply scraped soil from all over the compound and piled it into the this rectangular shape. I needed to solve this mystery as to why they had done this: What had happened to the rubbish?

Well, after much play acting and gesticulation to unravel the mystery, it appeared that the concept of burying rubbish was completely alien to them. The boys had decided that I must have a similar farming background to themselves and had interpreted my wishes as wanting to follow in their own cultural practice of growing peanuts (also known as groundnuts). Groundnuts are traditionally grown in northern Nigeria by planting the seeds into a mound of earth. As far as the boys were concerned I had simply indicated to them how many groundnuts I wished to grow by marking out the size of the mound.

But what about the rubbish? There was afterall, no sign of it. Well, yet again they assumed that I wished to follow their own practice and they had simply gathered it up and thrown it over the wall!

So, it was immediately evident that I needed to start building up my Hausa vocabulary if I was to achieve anything at all. Years later, one of the words that remains with me to this day is 'rami' - meaning hole.




Author: Maurice Thurman

Copyright © 2012 Sandhya Maarga Holistic Living Resources

Holistic Living Annex (AUGUST 2012)

5 Responses for “ Beware of 'Black Hole' in Communication”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nice read. Language can really sometimes be a barrier in achieving success. But still, language is something that we can learn.

     
  2. Binamitshan says:

    Hi. I want to ask you. How if two individual have common in spoken language, but still can't understand each other at sometime. Does it still can be called as 'black hole' communication? Does 'black hole'communication can be overcome by having spiritual strength for understanding (I mean sometimes we could perceive what others trying to say)?

     
  3. Maurice Thurman says:

    Binamitshan: I am using the term 'black hole' to categorize any attempt at communication that seriously fails to achieve its goal. It can happen between individuals with a common language but t is much less common.
    Spiritual strength can help but it also requires knowledge and possibly experience also. We tend to understand the world around us in terms of what we have learnt or experienced previously. So, as we grow older our spiritual strength, knowledge and past experiences build up to provide a broader basis upon which to guide our communication efforts.

     
  4. Connie Larson says:

    Your stories are always filled with suspense Maurice. They're very interesting.

     
  5. Daniel Thomas says:

    This reminds me of my own story when I visited Beijing. After walking around one of the villages, I was very thirsty. Trying to practice my mandarin skills, I took out my booklet and told the local residents that I needed water. However, they did nothing but stared blankly right at me. I tried again but to no avail. They only looked at each other and again, right back at me. Apparently, I pronounced water wrongly. There are four types of pronunciation in the Chinese language. Instead of saying "I want water", the villagers thought I asked "Whom do I want?" Luckily I did not end up bringing a girl back to the hotel or I'd never stop hearing about this from my wife until today.

     

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