dimensional communication

I am wondering whether I should rename this blog ‘Nickipedia’ as it is full of the thoughts and ideas that I have had during my life which are not necessarily backed by rigorous empirical research. Sometimes they are thoughts I have had that develop in a stream of consciousness. Sometimes they are reflections based on observations. Today’s bloggage is one of the latter bloggages… it’s something I have come up with, but I do apologise if someone else has already come up with it somewhere!

Good communication is vital – unless we are a hermit we humans need to communicate with one another. When it works well it is wonderful, but when it is not so good it can lead to all sorts of difficulties and problems. I have observed this when advising clients in matrimonial cases when I was a lawyer, in helping couples as a local church Minister, and in helping churches as a Regional Minister.

Thinking more particularly of organisational communication (but it could equally be interpersonal) I have come up with a rule of thumb for communication. It’s all about whether communication ought to be 2D or 3D. 2D communication is via a flat medium – a screen (email, text, messaging…) and 3D is in person (or at the very least by phone).

My rule of thumb is this:

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not my thumb print so don’t bother trying to use it to nab my identity!

2D communication is best for Disseminating information and Diary work.

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3D communication is best for Discussion, Discerning and Decision-making.

2D communication on a screen or on paper is brilliant if you are sending out an agenda or the minutes of a meeting. It’s great for sending someone an invitation or expressing thanks. It’s a good way to share dates for meetings. If it’s important that there’s a record 2D is great. If it’s a fact and you need to share it, it’s really good.

But 2D communication is bad for interacting with other people. When something is in writing on a screen or paper there is no intonation in what is written so you don’t know what mood someone is in when they are writing it (and you don’t know the mood of the person reading it). Even emojis are open to misunderstanding. And there is no opportunity for correcting misunderstandings or developing a thought. It’s there and that’s it. 2D communication is open to interpretation.

2D communication is really bad if you want to have a conversation with more than one person. I have witnessed all sorts of complicated email threads where a group of people have been trying to discuss things and because the different participants have been engaging with the discussion at different times the discussion bounces backwards and forwards and following what is being said becomes even more difficult. 2D communication is abysmal if you want to tell someone something negative or critical because the words are so open to misinterpretation.

That’s when 3D communication is needed. 3D communication (face to face ideally but over the phone is better than 2D) is really good when you need to discuss an idea and develop it. It’s really good when you need to listen well to one another and what is being said through one another. It’s really good when you need to reach a collective decision and are able to respond quickly to one another and develop your own thoughts along the way.

But 3D communication is not so good when you need to have something on the record – that’s why we have 2D records of meetings (we call them ‘minutes’ even if the meeting goes on for hours). It’s not so good if there is a lot of information to be communicated (there’s a link between how comfortable the chairs are, the length of the meeting and the amount of information that is retained).

Some more general words of advice:

In your 2D and 3D communication take time to choose your words carefully. Don’t shoot from the lip or send in haste. If it’s 2D, re-read what you have written before you have sent it and delete anything that could be misunderstood or received in a way that you didn’t intend. If someone has sent a long e-mail, do you need to reply saying ‘thank you for that lengthy email’? The word ‘lengthy’ may have been intended as a light-hearted nudge at the other person but it could be received as a criticism. If it’s 3D think before you say it. Ask yourself whether the words are going to build up or tear down. If it’s the latter, try to find the best and most positive way of framing it rather than letting the person have ‘both barrels’.

Don’t default to your comfort zone. If we spend a moment in advance of communicating to work out whether it is best done in 2D or 3D we may well end up communicating better. Remember that this is a rule of thumb. It’s not perfect. There will be times when you can’t use the right form of communication and the other will have to do.

And I do recognise the irony of writing this in a 2D bloggage. It will also become part of a 3D training session that I am offering to leadership teams in local churches under the heading ‘leading by following’ (co-written with a friend).

Be blessed, be a blessing