Thursday, January 2, 2014

Communication is Creative and Self-Reflective

Today I would like to talk a little about the nature of communicating in the semiosphere.

The Semiosphere is the context for the creative and self-reflective process of communicating in one's lived-world.

The semiosphere, like reality, is ever-changing. In fact, I wrote a blog entry developing this idea at length entitled "Communication as Possibility". If you haven't already read it it might help understanding this.

In this ever-changing reality, what we communicate creates what will be in the next moment. Remembering that communication involves both perception and expression, we see that the meaning we are attributing to our surroundings creates our conception of "reality". Simultaneously we are expressing ourselves verbally and nonverbally. This is what is happening when a person stands alone in the room. Now when another person enters the room we have a crashing of two lived-worlds. Together they form a semiosphere, a world reliant on navigating codes and sign systems. Depending on their mutual knowledge of certain codes the two people may communicate famously, or they may not "get" each other.

This is a fact I share with my students on the first day of the semester when I tell them to be careful when former students tell them about "Leyes' Speech class": Because the person talking is speaking about THEIR Speech class and theirs is over. OUR Speech class is yet to be. What will THIS speech class be? I don't know, because it hasn't happened yet. WE will create it. Sometimes it's magical and sometimes it's awful. I do pretty much the same spiel for every section, yet some of them respond wonderfully and others less so. The difference of course, is what the students bring to the show. TOGETHER we create the course. Their unique questions, speech topics, rhetorical choices all add to the discursive reality that becomes "the course" in our memory. The course is a process of co-creation between 26 people over 15 weeks. I am only one of the 26.
When I say the semiosphere is self-reflective, I mean that what I say says more about me than than the thing I am talking about. Every utterance is an expression of my perception. If, for example, I say "She is beautiful" I am in fact talking about MY judgement and my definition of beauty. My statement is a reflection of how I perceive the situation. If I say "this soup is too spicy" what I am REALLY saying is that I prefer less spice in my soup. This emphasizes the importance of "owning" one's message and stating it accurately. So when student A says to student B (from another class) "Leyes' class is a blast, he's so funny", she is talking about her perception of the experience in HER class. Student B may find this to be off base, as nobody laughs at his jokes in his class, in fact it's kind of dull.

But what does all this mean for public speaking? Well, every speaking situation takes place in the semiosphere. We need to understand that the audience is made up of individuals, some more central to our purpose than others. To convince them of something we must understand the lived-worlds of our key audience members and adapt our message to them. Their lived-worlds have their own codes and sign systems that drive behavior. By putting our focus on these codes and sign systems we are better able to construct messages that "speak to" them directly. And in so doing we are more likely to get the responses we seek from them.

I hope this makes sense for you. I am happy to entertain questions in the Comments section below.

That's all for today. Speak well, be well, and as always thanks for reading!

If you would like to learn more about Dan Leyes and his consulting work, see Semiosphere Consulting.