A few weeks ago, I had an enjoyable opportunity to observe some pros in the area of clear verbal communication when I listened to a football game via live streaming radio on my computer. I noticed the differences between the way TV and radio broadcasters call a game, depending on whether or not their audience can see what’s happening on the field. Radio announcers must use words alone to describe what they can see but the listener can’t.
As my clients and students know, communicating in person facilitates clarity and helps us detect and correct whatever miscommunications may occur, largely because it supplements our words with the interpretation tools of facial expression, tone of voice and body language.
But we can’t always communicate face-to-face. Time and distance can make it impossible to get together in person. Or it may be necessary or desirable to put something in writing, for example, to confirm an agreement or make a memo of its details.
Here’s a little game that can help you hone your ability to describe things clearly and accurately using only words. All you need is a Tangoes game. For those who are unfamiliar with Tangoes, the game consists of two sets of flat plastic geometric shapes plus cards illustrating figures or patterns that can be made by arranging the plastic pieces in different configurations. The reverse side of each card shows the solution to the figure depicted on the front. The usual method of play involves each player viewing only the front of a card and trying to arrange the plastic pieces to match the illustrated pattern.
In my communication version of the game, each player takes a set of plastic pieces. Player Number 1 draws a card, but refers to the solution side and gives Player Number 2 verbal instructions on how to arrange the pieces. No gesturing allowed! If you’re tempted to use your hands, sit on them. Then Player Number 2 takes a card and instructs Player Number 1 to form the pattern.
While it’s true that the players are sitting together in person, the nature of the game makes facial expression, body language and tone of voice relatively unimportant to the task of arranging shapes to form a pattern. Just as a radio sportscaster must use words to describe football plays a listener can’t see, the instructor in this game must use words to describe a pattern the other player can’t see.
Of course this game improves your ability to communicate with words alone. But as a bonus, this improved verbal ability, in turn, boosts your communication accuracy to an even higher level in those situations where you can also employ the tools of tone of voice, facial expression and body language to express yourself and understand others.
You’ll have fun trying the Communication Tango and learn something in the process.