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The communication gap

July 01, 2008

Hello again,

I wonder how much we really understand about communicating in this age in which the means of disseminating information ...


...have proliferated at the expense, it seems to me, of the quality of the message.

Let me give you two examples. Our privatised water company recently sent a standard letter to our part town to inform us that work on upgrading the water mains was due to begin and would last for eight months. The crucial information we all needed was how this would affect out water supplies. The letter said only that there would be some disruption to supplies and that we would be given notice of these. Unfortunately the impression created was that disruptions were possible for eight months. As I have a disabled person to look after I went into near panic mode, as water is essential to us for hygiene. Drinking water, after all, is not a problem as it is available in bottled form. I phoned the company and was told water could be delivered for the purposes of taking medication. I repeated that my concern was hygiene and the official said he knew nothing but would ask somebody to call.

Quite promptly a young man with a clipboard arrived and finally I got the true picture. Maximum disruption would be having the water turned off for one day with two or three days when supply would be cut for an hour. My point is that a simple paragraph in the original letter about how individual households would be affected could have avoided all this. Needless to say the company employs no less than six “communications managers”.

The second incident was an appointment received from the hospital for the same disabled person to attend an out-patients department. No information was included about assisted transport for people with mobility problems. I telephoned the hospital and was told the person’s doctor would have to arrange transport. The doctor’s surgery informed me that I would have to arrange it myself and gave me a telephone number to ring. On ringing the number I was to d that patients could not book transport themselves. I phoned the hospital again and was told that they couldn’t help me and when I suggested that this was not a satisfactory situation the person hung up.

I looked at the hospital website and eventually found a page detailing how to arrange transport for disabled people. But why was this information not included with the appointment letter; why do hospital frontline staff know nothing about it and why does the doctor’s surgery know nothing either? And, of course, many disabled people are unable to use the Internet so the fact that the information is posted there is hardly helpful. I haven’t asked how many “communications managers” the hospital employs.

So what has this to do with English language teaching? Simply that as teachers we should perhaps think about helping our students to understand that language proficiency and effective communications are not synonymous. The principles of clear communications need to be part of the curriculum just as much language training per se.

What do you think?

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Comments

  1. Teresa DiManno Says:

    welcome to the real world!!!!! as a former communications manager for an international insurance organisation i feel your pain... by way of explanation i offer that the corporate culture has alot to answer for when it comes to communicating the organisations objectives in a clear, understandable manner... that has been my experience... one of absolute frustration. i firmly believe though that if we just keep on chipping away we will eventually succeed... good luck

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