Words mean things.

This may seem like a statement of the blindingly obvious. Yet considering how often miscommunication and misunderstanding result in confusion and conflict, it bears repeating.

Words mean things.

That meaning goes far beyond simple definitions. The words we use reflect our cultural mindset, and that mindset is in turn reinforced by the words we use.

Put another way, the things we say influence how we think and how we think influences the things we say.

So today Hard NoCs is introducing the first in a series of “NoCabulary” words to help set the context for future discussions about Communication-Based Leadership.

Although common terms, NoCabulary words have specific and sometimes unique meaning that reflects and influences the cultural mindset of our community of communication-based leadership practitioners.

We hope you find these words and our exploration of them useful as you travel your personal path of thought and development as a Communication-Based Leader.

Today’s NoCabulary Words

The NoCabulary terms for today are communications and communication (sans “s”).

They provide an excellent example not only of how a single letter can subtly but significantly alter the meaning of a word, but how that difference in meaning can both reflect and shape a cultural mindset.

Communications generally refers to the technical school of thought, theory, and practice that emphasizes information control and delivery. It is grounded in mathematical and monologic  models developed by folks like Shannon and Berlo respectively, and prioritizes the medium and the message. Communications is one-way. It is about sending information between points A and B.

People with a communications mindset tend to communicate at and to people rather than with them. They frame their responses as they listen.

Communication (Sans “S”) generally refers to the social school of thought, theory, and practice that emphasizes human interaction. It is grounded in the work of social science researchers like Schramm and Waztlawick, Bavelas, and Jackson, and prioritizes the people participating in the exchange of information and ideas. Communication is (at least!) two-way. It is about social relationships and human interaction.

Leaders with a communication mindset tend to communicate with people rather than at and to them. They listen to comprehend.

The Significance of that One Pesky “S”

Communications thinkers tend to be tellers rather than listeners. Communication thinkers tend to be listeners rather than tellers.

When presented with this distinction, communications thinkers will frequently insist they understand that words mean things, but respond to the distinction created by that one little “s” by saying, “That’s merely semantics.”

That can lead to some serious problems.

Communication thinkers on the other hand generally understand that words mean things, that their meaning can be interpreted in many ways, and that there is nothing mere about semantics.

We challenge you to invest some personal time to think deliberately about how you use the words communications and communication, and how they are used throughout your organization – then share those thoughts here.

Does that one little “s” matter? What are some of your examples of when it does? Or when it doesn’t?

Let us know. We’ll be pleased to listen to your perspective!

Cliff W. Gilmore

Cliff W. Gilmore

CEO at North of Center, LLC
Cliff holds a PhD in organization and management with a specialization in leadership. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, he completed operational deployments to Fallujah, Iraq and Kandahar and Helmand, Afghanistan. He has led multi-national and inter-agency teams including approximately one year on loan from the Corps as Director of Policy, Planning, and Outreach for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs. He also directly advised the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on public and media engagement regarding national security matters for two years as Special Assistant for Public Communication. Today he puts that experience to work helping people become the kind of leaders they would want to follow.
Cliff W. Gilmore
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