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Similarly to law 6, this illustrates one of the causes of failures in communication. It applies both to senders and recipients. The recipient tends to forget relevant things, such as items which have been emphatically presented in the message as necessary requirements for understanding the rest of it. And the sender, upon receiving a request for clarification, such as a question during a lecture, will certainly be able to formulate an adequate, easy to understand answer - afterwards, when the situation is over.



Lack of negative feedback is often presented as indicating that communication was successful. Au contraire, it really means you failed miserably.

Since communication always fails, anyone who does understand part of your message will miss the other parts. If he is motivated enough, and understood well enough the part he understood, he'll write back to you. Whether he barks at you or politely asks for clarification is up to his education and character; for you, there should be little difference.

Human communication works through dialogues. If something that looks like one-directional communication, such as a book or a Web page or a newspaper article, miraculously works, it's because the author participated in dialogues elsewhere. He had discussed the topic with numerous people before he wrote the "one-directional" message.

So feedback is not just getting some nice comments "keep up the good work". Rather, feedback as a genuinely interactive process is a necessary part of human communication. Feedback has emotional effects, too; just getting any feedback is usually nice; but the content matters too.

By statistical certainty, if you get sufficient feedback, there will be negative feedback too. Even if your message is perfect, some people will tell you it's crap. In fact, especially if it is perfect, some people will say - often with harsh words - it's no good, because there are clueless people who envy you.

Thus, lack of negative feedback indicates that few if any people really cared about your message.




The Web used to contain a large amount of unorganized and unclassified data. Now it contains a huge amount of unorganized and unclassified data and a jungle of "search engines", "catalogues" or "virtual libraries", and "portals".

The various searching tools have an immense impact. At best, they are very clever and useful. Ask Jeeves, and you might get an immediate answer to your question which you wrote in plain English. Occasionally, it might even be a correct and utilizable answer.

It still remains a fact that when you are looking for information on the Web, you'll find either nothing (when your search criteria are tight) or a useless list of zillions of addresses (when your search criteria are generic). Except by accident, that is.

The practical implication is that when searching for information, you need to be flexible and flighty. Learn to use a few searching tools well - that means knowing well the search language of one or two search engines and using some well-maintained catalogues - but keep your eyes open. Sometimes you need to learn to use new tools, and frequently you find crucial information just by accident. Searching for information on X, you stumble across an essential resource on Y, which is among your central interests too, but not the one you're thinking about now. It might take some time to study it with some care - perhaps it's just a resource to be added to your link list, but it might be much more important, something that needs top priority in your dealing with Y. Switch the context! At the very minimum, store a pointer to information you've found, even if that means doing something related to your hobbies during your working hours, or, gasp, the opposite. Remember that in searching for information, which is a peculiar form of human communication, accidents are your friends, and perhaps the only friends you've got.



Teaching is far more difficult than people think. At worst, teaching is regarded as an one-directional transfer of information to a recipient, much like feeding an animal or sending data to a computer for storing. By the Laws, it will fail. Even if the recipient receives something, it will be misunderstood.

At best, there's a continuous feedback cycle between the teacher and the student. The latter sends back information that shows how he actually understood the content. Although this communication generally fails, too, it has sufficiently many odds of accidentally working. Moreover, it can be a self-repairing process. When the student shows the teacher what he has done, this will often indicate some fundamental misunderstandings. Ideally, the teacher should try and help the user see what went wrong.

In non-interactive teaching, the situation is far more difficult. The best the instructor can do is to provide guidance to self-testing, via exercises and quizzes, or via material that indirectly induces self-testing. In some cases, the student will immediately see whether his exercise succeeds. Sometimes answers to test questions need to be provided. And sometimes it is sufficient to give the student just some ideas on how to try what he thinks he has learned.

What should happen, then, is that when the student notices that he does not pass a self-test, he gets back to the instructional material, and tries to see what went wrong. At this phase, additional material might prove out to be useful. Mostly any "extra reading" is just ignored. But when the student realizes that he fundamentally misunderstood something, he might be willing to take extra trouble to read "secondary" material, which has now become potentially primary to him. After all, if the main material was not successful, it's probably time to study a presentation of the same topic in some other format and style.

The important thing is to realize that even the best explanations and illustrations will be misunderstood. The student needs a way of testing his understanding against some criteria. At best, this means doing something and seeing whether it works.

As a constructive summary, we can just state that you cannot communicate successfully. You can only increase the odds of accidental success by paying serious attention to the problems discussed here.

Professor Osmo A. Wiio (born 1928) is a famous Finnish researcher of human communication. He has studied, among other things, readability of texts, organizations and communication within them, and the general theory of communication. In addition to his academic career, he has authored books, articles, and radio and TV programs on technology, the future, society, and politics. He formulated "Wiio's laws" when he was a member of parliament (1975--79) and published them in Wiion lait - ja vähän muidenkin (Wiio's laws - and some others'; in Finnish).

Some authors have tried to explain the relatively frequent behavioural problems in deaf children by an impaired theory of mind development: a poor appraisal of other people's beliefs and desires. Recent studies suggest that this explanation is too simplistic. When deaf children were asked to explain other people's emotional reactions, Rieffe and Meerum Terwogt (2000) found that they were no worse at giving mental state references than hearing controls. However, the content of these references differed between the two groups: deaf children made more desire attributions and fewer belief attributions than the hearing children. It is important to note that desires are strongly linked with the outcome of a situation, whereas beliefs are often necessary to understand the process that preceded this outcome.

A follow-up study showed, as expected, that when both groups were offered stories about disappointing situations, deaf children reacted primarily with outcome-dependent emotions and explained these emotions accordingly. Their neglect of the preceding process implied also a neglect for the causal factors, unlike their hearing peers, who frequently referred to process-relevant elements. Nearly all deaf children in these studies had hearing parents. It is known that the conversations

between hearing parents and their deaf children are impaired due to a language gap: parents often fail to explain their decisions and they only communicate the eventual outcome. Their deaf children seem to react in a similar way: they limit their focus and communication to their own wishes.

If this type of communication pattern becomes common practice, one can easily see why deaf children are frequently labelled as stubborn and obstinate. In time, as we showed in another study, our deaf participants even failed to reproduce the reasons for an undesirable decision that was explicitly explained to them. Inadequate communication, delayed emotional competence and low self-esteem (by losing their grasp on the situation) form a dangerous triad that could easily have long-term effects.


2. Comment on Wiio’s Laws:

- Communication usually fails, except by accident.

- If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximizes the damage.

- There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant with your message

- The more we communicate, the worse communication succeeds in mass communication,

- The important thing is not how things are but how they seem to be.

- The importance of a news item is inversely proportional to the square of the distance.

- The more important the situation is, the more probably you forget an essential thing that you remembered a moment ago.

3. How do you understand the following?

- If nobody barks at you, your message did not get through.

- Search for information fails, except by accident.

- Give the student a chance to realize he misunderstood it all.


4. How can we apply Wiio’s Laws to multicultural communication? Think up three dofferent situations to illustrate them.

5. Can cultural misunderstandings in communication be dangerous for life? Watch video and share your thoughts.




Commonality of humankind [27]


Differences between people within any given nation or culture are much greater than differences between groups. Education, social standing, religion, personality, belief structure, past experience, affection shown in the home, and a myriad of other factors will affect human behavior and culture.

Sure there are differences in approach as to what is considered polite and appropriate behavior both on and off the job. In some cultures "yes" means, "I hear you" more than "I agree." Length of pleasantries and greetings before getting down to business; level of tolerance for being around someone speaking a foreign (not-understood) language; politeness measured in terms of gallantry or etiquette (e.g., standing up for a woman who approaches a table, yielding a seat on the bus to an older person, etc.); and manner of expected dress are all examples of possible cultural differences and traditions.



In México it is customary for the arriving person to greet the others. For instance, someone who walks into a group of persons eating would say provecho (enjoy your meal). In Chile, women often greet both other women and men with a kiss on the cheek. In Russia women often walk arm in arm with their female friends. Paying attention to customs and cultural differences can give someone outside that culture a better chance of assimilation or acceptance. Ignoring these can get an unsuspecting person into trouble.

There are cultural and ideological differences and it is good to have an understanding about a culture's customs and ways. Aaron Pun, a Canadian ODCnet correspondent, wrote: "In studying cross cultural differences, we are not looking at individuals but a comparison of one ethnic group against others. Hence, we are comparing two bell curves and generalization cannot be avoided." Another correspondent explained the human need to categorize. True and true, but the danger comes when we act on some of these generalizations, especially when they are based on faulty observation. Acting on generalizations about such matters as eye contact, personal space, touch, and interest in participation can have serious negative consequences.

Have you ever been in trouble because of wrong interpretation of some verbal or nonverbal signs communicating with people from other cultures or even from different region?

Do you agree that generalizations like “all people are the same” are wrong and can lead to serious misunderstandings in multicultural communication?




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