The art of communication seems simple. Say what’s on your mind and get going. So it seems.

Yet, a careful study of the subject, vis a vis how it is applied, would reveal that rather than communicating, most individuals tend to disseminate messages to their intended audiences.

Usually, this is what happens. I am supposed to tell you something, I see you or call to tell you, that’s it. Whether you heard or understood me is my ‘back-case’. The result is the numerous petty squabbles, office politics and examination failures.

I thought I understood the subject, communication, from journalism school through GIMPA and UG, until I sat at the feet of Ms. Esther Cobbah of Stratcomm Africa in a communication skills training session. It was then I realised that most of us communicate amiss, all the time.

Standard communication text books define communication as “the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium.”

Others say communication is a dynamic process that begins with conceptualising ideas by the sender, who then transmits the message through a channel to the receiver. The receiver, in turn, gives the feedback in the form of a message or a signal within the given time frame.

Thus, the major elements of the communication process include Sender, Encoding, Message, Channel, Receiver, Decoding and Feedback. Through feedback, the sender is able to ascertain whether the encoded message was decoded accurately.

So, in the aforementioned session, Auntie Esther explained communication as “the transfer of meaning from one person to the other.” In other words, until one is certain that the meaning intended is what the receiver has received, one has only disseminated information.

This is the case because communication, as defined earlier, is different in meaning from dissemination. While communication is the transfer of meaning from a sender to a receiver, dissemination means “to broadcast a message without direct feedback from the audience” – Wikipedia.

Having distinguished the two, it is imperative to emphasise that it is only after feedback has been given and the encoder has confirmed same to be true, that communication can be said to have taken place.

In the absence of the desired feedback, communication will not only go amiss and result in the non-attainment of desired objectives, it can cause chaos.

For this reason, I have come up with an acronym for FEEDBACK, that I hope will drum its significance home, the more- F- Feel  E- Encouraged  E- Enough, D- Do B- Bring A- a C- Comment, it’s  K- Key.

Here are a few incidents to bring the point home:

Incident 1 – Failing examination because you don’t understand the teacher

At GIMPA, I had a brush with a lecturer called Dr. A (for obvious reasons). He taught us Quantitative Methods and Project Management. I hated Maths before entering GIMPA. However, because it was a compulsory subject, I made it a point to ensure that no grade ‘F’ came my way.

Consequently, I asked very basic questions during lectures. For example, I asked why 3-(-3) is equal to 6 when 3+3 is also equal to 6. This got on Dr. A’s nerves. On one occasion, he said in class that I asked unnecessary questions. To cut a long story short, I made a ‘B+’ in ‘quanty’ as we christened that subject.

Fast forward to the third year, in a Project Management class, I asked a question on the first day of lectures. Dr. ‘A’ retorted, you again? I said ‘yes, sir.’ I decoded the message - I am posing a nuisance to the class. So, I stopped asking questions in class. I got ‘A-’ in this subject too.

In the end, with a CGPA of 3.85, I made it to the First Class list. On the graduation day, I walked up to him:

Me: Sir, I got First Class.

Dr. A: You are joking.

Me: Check the list.

Dr. A: (Shocked) Congratulations!!!

How? Unbeknownst to him, because he detested my open feedback which sought to draw his attention to the fact that there was no transfer of meaning of what he was teaching, to me, I redirected my questions to my mates; Baby Tei and Bridget. They provided the congenial atmosphere for transfer of meaning through one-on-one as well as group sessions.

The essence of this total recall is to underscore the fact that most students fail their examinations because teachers and lecturers often disseminate information instead of transferring the meaning of the principles, formulae and concepts they teach in class.

Unfortunately, like Dr. A, most teachers expect their feedback in the script you produce during the end of term or semester examination. If you fail, ‘it’s your own palaver.’

As a teacher, Dr. ‘A’ should have welcomed the questions and used the opportunity to clarify where necessary. This is important because, at the group sessions, it turned out that I was not alone in having difficulty with understanding why 3-(-3) is equal to 6. Thankfully, all members of the group sailed through, though.

Later, Dr. ‘A’ endorsed my application for the Masters programme at the University of Ghana.

Incident 2 – 'Fa koma omu' - Send it to them

It must have been sometime in 2009. I had worked on an urgent letter that was meant to announce the postponement of a meeting that was scheduled to take place within two days.

The attendees had been invited from all the then ten regions of Ghana to Accra. We finished the letter late in the afternoon and I told the Secretary to 'fa koma omu' - send it to them.

Here is the context. The recipients were clearly spelt out on the letter. So to me, ‘fa koma omu’ meant send it to the recipients by email. Somehow, the letter was sent to our bosses.

Later in the evening, calls started coming in from some of the invitees that they had arrived in Accra. Shocked, I called the Secretary to find out whether the letter was sent. The answer was, ‘yes.’ To whom? The bosses.

Why? Because we worked on the letter with the bosses, she thought I said she should give it back to them.

For communication to have taken place, this is what should have happened. I should have said ‘fa koma Principals no’ - Send it to the Principals. In the absence of that, I should have asked the Secretary for feedback to ensure that the message was clear.

On the other hand, with the ambiguity in my message, the Secretary could also have clarified who the ‘omu’ were.

Subsequently, I learnt from the then Board Chairman, Hajia Mariama Sumani, that “you don't expect what you don’t inspect.”

Incident 3 – ‘Mi jw3n ni…’ - I thought…

Once upon a day, I was in a hurry to leave the house; so, I asked one of my sons to iron a particular shirt for me. To ensure that he knew the particular shirt to be ironed, I put it on the ironing board.

Somehow, someone took the shirt away from where I placed it. When he was ready to iron, my son took another shirt that was hung near the ironing board. When I was ready to go, my preferred shirt laid there crumpled.

When I asked why? He responded ‘Mi jw3n ni…’ - I thought this was the shirt you wanted ironed.

To avoid such an inconvenience, I should have showed him the shirt I wanted ironed, instead of just putting it on the ironing board. On his part, he should have confirmed from me which shirt to iron before proceeding to do so. Since then, he has been crosschecking.

Incident 4 – Jollof Rice AND, not WITH light soup

The story is told that once upon a time, a Senior Editor at JoyNews sent a National Service person to buy him Jollof rice AND light soup. Note that it wasn’t Jollof rice WITH light soup.

The NSS man returned with a bowl full of light soup mixed with Jollof rice. Go ahead, laugh.

For communication to have taken place, this is what should have happened. The sender should have explained that the two menu items should be bought separately, despite the fact that they will end up in the same place, anyway. In doubt, the NSS man should have sought feedback to confirm his understanding of the order.

In the absence of that, the disaster occurred.

Therefore, in order to avoid all the pitfalls that the communication process can evoke, it is critical to seek feedback. That is the only way one can be sure that the encoded message has been decoded exactly how they intended. That is, the meaning you transferred has been accurately received.

Indeed, feedback is so critical, not just in direct interpersonal communication but it could be highly useful for individuals who are engaged in any endeavor.

My first book, Eric’s Diary: A Guide to Writing Feature Articles Using the 5Ws and H +M O/R, was inspired by the feedback I received from readers of the numerous articles I wrote. The idea to put everything in one place in the form of a book had been lingering but when one ardent reader who happens to be my name sake - Eric Lipe Abaye - broached the issue, it brought it to my front burner. And here we are.

Again, it is my love for feedback that makes me cherish meetings so much. I mean the formal, structured ones. The kind of meeting that allows for a review of previous minutes, followed by a discussion on matters arising, before tackling the agenda of the day. In my view, feedback received on matters arising from previous minutes serve as the building blocks for any group or organisation. The absence of such well-structured and regular meetings is a recipe for disaster for any such group or organisation.

Leaders, especially, need feedback because in Ga, we say, “gb3jelo enaa es33 nii” – to wit, he who cuts the path does not see how crooked it is.

It is for this reason I find the absence of the ‘infamous’ suggestion box from most organisations, lately, very worrying. It has its disadvantages, yes. But as a communications professional, and with the little experience I have, I will vouch for it, anyday. Remember, always Feel Encouraged Enough, Do Bring A Comment, it’s Key.

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.