8 Communication and trust
Simple models of communication may talk about sending and receiving messages, but you cannot look into the brain’s unconscious mental processes to observe messages being sent and received.
What you communicate depends on how other people interpret what you do. Knowing whether you are communicating what you want to communicate is challenging. Even when you feel sure other people understand you, you cannot observe – objectively – what’s in your mind and compare it with what’s in their mind. Moreover, you cannot ‘observe the unconscious mental processes that produce that conscious awareness.
For example, your eyes may detect light, just as your ears detect sound and your other sense organs detect what you taste, touch and feel, but you rely on your unconscious mental processes to render what your sense organs detect meaningful.
The many challenges inherent in effective communication are captured by the Shannon-Weaver model. This model emphasises the role of ‘noise’ in interrupting or perhaps distorting the supposedly smooth flow of communication between two people – a ‘transmitter’ and ‘receiver’ – but also the role that the individual themselves as a participant in the communication process might play in modifying the message based on their own understanding. Partly this is to do with the role of your conscious and sub-conscious, but it is partly also to do with the fact that you cannot ‘not communicate’.
This notion of consciousness and how we interact with the world around us was explored in some depth by the American neuroscientist Benjamin Libet (Box 4).
Box 4 Communication runs ahead of conscious awareness
If you were able to let your mind stand still for a moment, you might accept that whatever you’re consciously aware of knowing ‘now’ – which just became ‘then’ – is a constantly changing, highly edited summary of what your unconscious mental processes started to do about half a second ago. Your current conscious awareness is derived from what your smart unconscious selects from myriad possibilities.
Many things that your sense organs detect do not elicit conscious awareness. Leading neuroscientist, Benjamin Libet, explained ‘If you were to become aware of all sensory inputs, you would be overloaded with an ineffective buzz of conscious events’ (2004, p. 116). What you’re consciously aware of knowing now is the most important thing you have done in the last half second – everything else is known unconsciously.