Why Don’t You Hear What I Mean? – The Satir Interaction Model

“Communication is a system of interaction. In some sense communication is always flawed because it is impossible simply to put one’s thoughts and understandings directly into someone else’s head.” Bernard Mayer

Two recent events reminded me about the minefield called communication. A friend requested some feedback which I gladly provided. In fact, I thought I did a pretty good job! Based on the reply I received about the feedback, I knew what got heard, wasn’t what I meant.

About the same time I was reviewing presentation material from a session I presented with Brian Pioreck at the AYE 2001 Conference titled “What’s Wrong With My Staff? How Management Style Affects Organization Potential.” In it, we listed seven barriers to interpersonal communication. Since then I’ve added two more barriers. Right now the list contains the following items:

  • Semantics
  • Filtering
  • Credibility of the sender
  • Different frames of reference
  • Value judgments
  • Communications overload(ing)
  • MBTI Type differences
  • Intake modalities
  • Bandwidth

So what happened in my feedback situation? First, the feedback happened via email, a very bandwidth constrained channel. I attempted humor anyway, which involved different reference frames. I know we have reasonably different MBTI preferences. Fortunately my credibility was sufficiently high that the other person chose not to ignore my feedback, but instead opened the opportunity for me to get some feedback on my feedback. We used the Satir Interaction Model to unravel the communication snarl.

The Satir Interaction Model

The Satir Interaction Model provides a framework to organize our thoughts about how communication occurs. The model looks like:

 

Satir Interaction Model

First, we take in information. This could be reading email, hearing words spoken, or any other activity where we notice something in our environment. Next we decide, “What does this mean?” Asking “What three different meanings could this have?” helps create a space so we have time to consider possible different meanings. And then “So what?” Is this of significance? If we feel the interaction is significant, we can choose to respond.

This simple representation suffices for most interactions. Jerry Weinberg covers the Satir Interaction Model in greater detail in Becoming A Technical Leader.

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How do you untangle messy communications?
What additional communication barriers can you think of?

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