The basic conversation structure in 1 to 1 exchanges is like a game of catch.
The rules are simple: Catch is a ball game played with two or more people that involves tossing or throwing a ball of any kind back and forth between the players.
For the game to be satisfying, even fun, requires that the players
- Play by the reciprocity rules: You toss the ball to me, I catch it and toss it back to you.
- Be attentive: If one player doesn’t pay attention, s/he may miss the catch. In communication terms between sender and receiver, that means they didn’t “get it” (catch the meaning.) However, if a player doesn’t catch it, s/he can pick it up and throw it back.
- Toss it back, perhaps with a different spin on it. When the toss-back is different, the game progresses and is usually more fun. Often the most excitement results when A tosses to B almost, but not quite, out of range, who, leaping high, manages to make a great catch to “get it.”
Another way of saying “back and forth” is to complete the loop between communicators, even if your conversation is electronic, as with email. Your toss-back is an acknowledgement that you received the message, even if you send only a simple “OK, thanks” response.
I am puzzled why many people don’t follow the basic rule of this game, which is acknowledgement (“OK, I got it”), then “Now I’ll send my response; here it comes.” If they don’t express this meaning clearly, the original sender will be in mystery, wondering if s/he should toss the same message or even quit the game.
In professional meetings I attend I am sometimes asked “Please send me that special report you mentioned.” So I send it to them as they requested, but too often I get no response. Nothing. No acknowledgement, not even a simple “Thanks.” Grade? D-minus.
Incomplete loop = incomplete communication. My counsel: Complete the loop.
Loren Ekroth ©2012, all rights reserved
Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and an international expert on conversation for business and social life.
Contact at Loren@conversationmatters.com