Sat | Oct 21, 2017

Tony Deyal | The elephant in the room

Published:Saturday | July 1, 2017 | 12:11 AM

How do you kill a blue elephant? Shoot it with a blue elephant gun. How do you kill a red elephant? Strangle it till it turns blue, then shoot it with a blue elephant gun.

How do you kill a green elephant? Tell it a dirty joke until it blushes and turns red, strangle it until it turns blue, then shoot it with a blue elephant gun. How do you kill a yellow elephant? What are you talking about? Yellow elephants don't exist!

This is the kind of offbeat humour I tend to use as comic relief in my communication workshops and retreats because there are messages or links to important issues hidden in them, although, I admit, the jokes are really a way of relieving the tensions generated by my high-intensity, extremely interactive group sessions that have no lectures and comprise only labs and case studies.

My definition of communication is pragmatic and much more suited to the business environment than talk about signals and noise. For me, the basic function of all communication is to control the environment to achieve or attain specific and measurable physical, economic, social and emotional rewards.

Whether we know it or not, plan or don't plan it, all communication has a purpose, even if it is only for the other person to think or say, "Tony is a really mannerly feller, you know."

What some people find hard to believe until they look closely into themselves is the importance of self-interest in communication. The fact is that if we don't want something from other people, we will pass them straight.

I once worked with a lady who every morning would refuse to return my "Good morning". I considered not saying anything to her but decided I had to be who I was, and it was part of my own armoury meant to disarm other people. So I continued. Then one morning, before I could get the "Good..." out of my mouth, the lady smiled almost beatifically and said in honeyed tones, "Good morning, Tony. How are you this morning?" What did that tell me? She wanted something from me (and I was proven right a few seconds later).

A lot of these communication basics come from a 1985 book that was way ahead of its time ('Organizations in the Communications Age' by E.A. More and R.K. Laird). Another important text, 'Managing By Communication' (Myers, M.T., and Myers, G.), identified what I consider the four basic truths about communication. These are, you cannot not communicate; communication always occurs in a context of change; communication is irreversible; and perception is reality. Put a different way, communication is not what you do but how others interpret what you do from their own unique perspectives and perceptions. This is why you cannot not communicate. It is not up to you but to the other person or people.

Also, if you say something to someone, like my "Good morning", you are really trying to change that person for some reason based on your own needs. If the person responds, it means that he or she has accepted your challenge and will use the opportunity to try to change you. It is a battle of wits and this is why the basic unit of communication is called a 'transaction'. It is all about buying, selling, dealing and dominance. Whether it is small beer or big bucks, communication always occurs in a context of change.

One thing we learn from all the claims of being 'misquoted' or being 'taken out of context' is that we cannot unsay what has already been said. Communication is irreversible. It is pathetic to receive an email that is followed almost immediately by another recalling the email that was sent. Mentally and technically, it cannot be done.

It is like the smart lawyer who says something knowing that the other lawyer will object. The judge sustains the objection and calls for the statement to be struck off the record. However, nobody can erase it from the minds of the jury. So communication is irreversible. Once you send it out there, you cannot take it back. In terms of perception and reality, if I think someone is a crook, when I shake hands with that person, I will most likely count my fingers afterwards.


All about learning


I know that you cannot teach anyone anything, but you can create an environment in which people, especially adults, might be tempted to learn. One of the techniques I use to create such a setting is lateral-thinking puzzles. Wikipedia explains that lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.

So if you wondered about the elephants, here are a few laterals thrown at you for good measure. A man uses a stick to strike a part of an elephant and after a few seconds it disappears. The man is then a lot richer. Why? The man is playing billiards with balls made of ivory. By pocketing a ball with his cue, he wins the match.

A hunter aimed his gun carefully and fired. Seconds later, he realised his mistake. Minutes later, he was dead. Explain. One of the possibilities is that he shot an elephant with a low calibre rifle not powerful enough to kill the elephant, which became enraged and trampled the hunter. Then there is this one. A nobleman was extremely displeased when he received an unwanted gift from the king. Why?

The king was the King of Siam and the gift was a white elephant. The story goes that the king gave the rare white elephant to those with whom he was displeased and wished to ruin. The elephant was very expensive to keep but was sacred and could not be used for work. Also, as a royal gift, it could not be disposed of. This is the source of the expression 'a white elephant'.

- Tony Deyal was last seen asking how do you put a giraffe into a fridge? Open the door, put in the giraffe and close the door? How do you put an elephant into a fridge? Open the door. Take out the giraffe, etc.