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Communication: Encoding & Decoding

The girl with Asperger’s—the one who also has a degree in communications—is going to break it all down for you now.

I don’t want to hear “Men are from Mars” or any of that shit. Gender plays a role, but people are individuals, and what it really comes down to is encoding and decoding.

Everyone is an ariel. They send and receive. Messages you send are encoded. Think of it as similar to fingerprints; no two signals are exactly alike. But people on the same “wavelength” have a better chance of decoding each other’s messages correctly.

We encode based on a variety of factors. Part of it is our upbringing—we’ve learned what is polite, what is appropriate, culturally acceptable. Consider, for example, one’s sense of humor. Different cultures, regions, etc. have different ideas of what is funny. If you’re wit is dry, and you encode a joke in something you say, and the person you’re talking to doesn’t “get it” . . . Well, they’ve decoded differently from what you’ve encoded. When you think you’re being clear and the person you’re talking to looks puzzled . . . Your signal to them is not as clear as you thought. Transmit again, encoding differently. Keep changing frequencies until you find one in common.

It is this simple. And I’m not only talking about, well, talking. Body language. Written communication. The stuff we watch on TV. All of this is encoded, all of it must be decoded. Think about your favorite television show. You like to talk about it a lot, don’t you? You like to read various online sites that deconstruct every nuance? Guess what? You’re enjoying the process of decoding the “text” of that program. Whether what you take away from the show is what the writers, producers, actors, directors intended, well . . . That’s something else again, the stuff of entertainment magazine articles and Twitter debates.

I understand all this because I’ve spent my life having to learn it. I have Asperger’s and can’t always tell when someone is joking. And then, when I think I’m being funny, I find it’s often missed. I’ve spent a life adjusting my sending and receiving skills. I’ve had to think about it a lot.

If you’re trying to teach someone how to do something, do you teach one way and hope they get it? Or, if they aren’t getting it, do you stop and try another approach? It’s the same with any form of communication. So next time you’re feeling misunderstood, don’t bother getting frustrated. Take a step back and ask yourself how you can better encode so that others can decode and respond appropriately. And if you’re not understanding someone, try looking at what they’re saying or doing from another angle. We can all communicate effectively if we just take the time and make a little effort.



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