The Design of Communication

The Design of Communication

Patterns of communication are simply structured, ongoing interactions. When two colleagues work together over a period of time, they establish habits in the way they communicate and interact; these habits form their pattern.

Patterns—unwanted or preferred—are made from specific episodes and the turns that give them their structure.

Turns—fragmented or aligned—are the transitional exchanges within an episode where what happened in the prior turn, and what could happen in the next one, can be shaped by the precise enactment of the present choice in communication (e.g., you said this, then I say that, you did this, so I did that, etc.). Turns are the most basic of all the communication design elements.

Episodes—closed or open—are a structured set of turns, punctuated by a beginning and end point held together by a common theme (e.g., the difficult conversation, the left-handed compliment, the failed delegation, and the annual performance appraisal, etc.). They are what happen when people in communication literally make part or all of an ongoing pattern of communication.

Whether we are intentional about it or not, we are in a continuous process of making our experience through communication. The design of communication is built from the small everyday turns, to the larger patterns we sustain over time.

Re-making patterns of communication requires an understanding of the chemistry, physics, and design elements of turns and episodes. Once these are understood, you can see the ways in which everyday patterns are made and re-made.

The Roman architect Vitruvius said a good building should satisfy the three principles of firmitas, utilitas, and venustas. With regards to our constructed patterns of communication I think they should follow those three truths as well: durability (the preferred pattern will last); utility (the preferred pattern will produce desired outcomes); and beauty (the preferred pattern will improve the quality of my working life).

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