I recently saw two chameleons on a farm in Pretoria, South Africa – one was bright green and the other was dark brown. I almost missed the brown one as it sat calmly on a tree trunk. Seeing the different coloured chameleons only further reinforced my belief that a chameleon changes colour depending on its environment; that the brown one had got that way by sitting on the brown bark of a tree. It turns out however, that this long-held view is a myth. A chameleon changes colour as a form of communication – it’s an important sign of a change in mood and signals aggression, territory, and mating behaviour. Rather than change colour because it was sitting on a brown tree trunk, the chameleon was communicating that it was either carrying eggs or wasn’t in the mood for mating.
Effective communication is one of the greatest life skills we can learn. Brian Tracy (motivational author and speaker) says “communication is a skill that you can learn. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” From the moment we’re born, we’re trying to get messages to anyone who can see or hear us. We learn through trial and error, how best to communicate our thoughts, feelings, emotions and knowledge to others, all in the hope of getting the desired response. But many of us never move from a basic level of communication and so miss out on imparting our skills, talents, experiences and abilities to others.
We learn to communicate effectively by changing the way we communicate, depending on who we’re with.
I’ve worked in the radio broadcasting industry for more than twenty years and so, when I accepted a brief stint as substitute English teacher, I felt like an alien landing on a different planet. As I walked into the staffroom, I noticed that the teachers were using terms I was unfamiliar with. Only as I began to understand some of these unique terms, could I have a decent conversation with the other teachers.
My experience reminded of the words of Paul, the man who so eloquently explained the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Bible. “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
In order for us to be more effective at getting our message across, we must learn to connect with people by understanding who they are and how they communicate, and that only happens when we start by watching and listening to them and learning from them.