For a long time after the human race appeared on Earth, to understand a particular message or find out about something, it was necessary to see, hear and feel the people and situations involved. Over time, technology allowed us to overcome these physical limitations. With the telephone, newspaper, radio, fax machine, cell phone, and e-mail, we are now better-connected than ever. As we developed the means and tools to send messages, our opportunities to be heard multiplied.

Opening up and Sharing
Communication is involving others in what one has to say. It means sharing, tuning in, bringing two worlds together and in touch with each other. It is much more than simply sending or receiving a message. But most of all, it requires opening up our inner selves to others by revealing ideas and feelings that only exist for others the moment they are shared. Human communication is complex because it involves an inner world comprised of different realms–body, mind and spirit–which, though explored, have not always been deciphered by each one of us. It is difficult to extract our inner being and share it with someone else, since we must first deal with and understand it ourselves. Communication is not only transmitting information; it means exploring who we are and discovering what it is we want to share.

Hidden Contradictions
Amazing breakthroughs in telecommunications and the media have enabled us to get closer to each other, but the question then arises as to whether this closer contact actually helps us understand each other more and better? Let’s not forget that Queen Isabella of Spain waited five months for news of Columbus’ journey whereas it only took 1.3 seconds for the entire world to see the images of the first men on the moon. Speed and quality, however, do not always go hand-in-hand. Today we have the means to attain the previously unimaginable: chat with people in distant lands, conduct business transactions on other continents via e-mail, telephone customers in other states, etc., but the quality of our face-to-face communication is not necessarily better than it was before. For example, we do not always tell our spouse *what really bothers us about his/her attitude; sometimes we don’t know what is worrying the friend we are talking to on the phone; we often hear our children without actually listening to them. That being the case, what use are these new means of communication if we lack the basic elements to interact with each other, no matter how near or how far they may be?

Essential Ingredients
There are two key factors that provide quality to our communication: empathy and the ability to listen. A message really conveys something when the sender is truly concerned about the recipient and takes into account his/her needs, interests and circumstances. When we are empathic and manage to see through another individual’s eyes, we get close to his/her inner self and lay the groundwork for a genuine exchange by using appropriate language, being sensitive to his/her feelings and offering what (s)he needs. Listening also connects us to others. When we listen, our five senses strive to understand what another person is saying and why. It helps us understand his/her world and assures us that we will receive what (s)he is offering as best we can. When we listen, we open the floodgates to our inner selves while the speaker feels taken seriously. With these elements, both long- and short-distance communication acquire a human, sensitive dimension, because it is only under these circumstances that we are prepared to give and receive. In view of the widespread availability of communication media, we now realize that technology in itself will not open the doors to true communication. Both senders and recipients of messages must open up the doors to their inner selves so as to bring the two worlds together and create a connecting link.

Exercises
• Ask yourself what it is you want to communicate and how you can go about it. If we concentrate on what we want to say, it is easier to convey what we really feel or think.
• Do you talk more to friends or clients than to your own family? Is your e-mail full of messages, but you’ve stopped seeing your friends? Do you spend the day talking but seldom share your feelings? Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself how you communicate with others.
• When communicating something, put yourself in the other person’s place. Reflect on how (s)he will feel when you say what’s on your mind and what needs will emerge as a result of this information. Think, too, about the language and words you should use.