Like social interaction, communication is another of my weak points. To a certain extent.

Communication, be it written or oral, is about getting ones point across. This involves getting an idea or a thought, and translating it into words. It is here, that the difference between oral and written communication lies. In writing, one tends to take more time to refine the idea, putting it into words, checking over the text, correcting the spelling and grammar, until the text reads correctly.

In speech, particularly off-the-cuff, one does not have the luxury of time to think one’s ideas over, before saying it. And here is where I fall down. About 75% of the time, I would struggle to convert an idea in my head, into words. However, there are occasions when my speech comes out freely, and that is often because I have certain phrases or expressions at my disposal; that is one thing, but knowing when to use which phrase or expression, is another thing.

“Now, Derek, I’m talking to you, but you’re not talking to me. All you’re saying is ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’.”

It was when I was in second year in secondary school, one lunchtime, (October/November 1988) when I was assigned to clean a table where I, and several other students, were eating their lunch. The rest of the lads were shaking the table, with the result that the tea at the top of the mugs was shaken out onto the table. I decided I was not going to clean up after their mess. About midway through the lunch break, one of the teachers who were on supervision, approached me and asked why I didn’t clean the table. It was at one point in the conversation that he said he was taking to me but not vice versa.

In situations where I am engaged in a one-to-one conversation, and in particular when there is no-one else involved, or likely to become involved, I find that the other person is asking the majority of the questions, and I am answering the questions. It is occasional that I would supply information that is not related to a question that the other person asked, and it is less often that I would be the one asking the questions.

One aspect of oral communication where I tend to really fall down is in starting a conversation, particularly with someone I do not know, or if starting a conversation with someone means breaking out of a “comfort zone”. It is probably down to me fearing that the other person will look at me as if I was from Mars, or that he will conjure up other negative opinions of me. A classical exception to this rule is in seeking certain information at work, be it from my colleagues, or from someone outside the company, over the phone, and when I have to talk to someone to get the information I need to progress a project.

In an attempt to address this weakness in oral communication, I joined an organisation called Toastmasters, in 1998. This is an international organisation, founded in 1927, by Dr. Ralph C. Smedley, devoted to helping people better their oral communication skills.