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Why Can’t We See Eye-to-Eye?

Improving communication through non-threatening visual exercises.

I hear it all the time: "My wife (brother, co-worker, etc.) just doesn’t get what I’m saying." Today's polarized political climate has exacerbated the issue.

There are a number of ways to effectively address these communication issues, therapy, role-playing, etc., but most of these standard methods involve heightened emotional responses on both sides, which often make it difficult to get to the heart of the matter.

Neurocognitive models that use attention, intention, and rehearsal to change behaviors offer another way of addressing communication issues that is non-threatening.

Neurocognitive exercises help individuals understand the when, where, why, and how new learning can be applied to create usable knowledge. These exercises guide individuals through the backwaters of their own subconscious thought processes, allowing them to objectively think about how they think and habitually structure information.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail" — this is a habitual way of addressing a problem. Using these exercises helps individuals to see issues both from the hammer side as well as from the side of people holding screwdrivers and wrenches.

Neurocognitive exercises use graphical puzzles with visual “speed bumps” that require individuals to slow down their thought processes. They become aware of their preferred mental models and how they go about organizing information.

By solving many and various kinds of puzzles, they also learn how organizational structures are related. This knowledge is particularly important to enhancing communications because it enables them to present information in a more comprehensive manner, taking into account how someone else perceives the information. Because the puzzles are content-free, they are non-threatening and have no emotions attached or even the sense that this is about communication.

Visual analogies are one such method for improving communication because they compare unfamiliar situations to familiar ones to generate inferences. An analogy presents a relationship between two sets of items. A rule dictates that relationship and is applied in a new example. To solve a problem, one needs to go beyond immediate perceptions by identifying and applying the new rule that dictates the change. This is accomplished by looking at the first set, describing, comparing, and contrasting two elements to determine which rules apply and then generalizing those rules to the new example.

Let’s look at an example:

©2006 Donalee Markus, Ph.D. & Associates. All rights reserved worldwide.
Analogy 1
Source: ©2006 Donalee Markus, Ph.D. & Associates. All rights reserved worldwide.

The first thing we need to do is to decide what rules are governing the change between the two flowers. Most obvious, perhaps, is the color change with one petal changing from yellow to blue. Next, there’s a change in placement—if you look at the brown petals, you’ll see that one has changed place—it’s farther away from the yellow petals. Finally, there’s a change in size—the bottom of the plant on the right has a larger base than the original one. So this puzzle has three rules—color, placement, and size.

Now we need to see which of the multiple-choice options below have these same three rules when compared to the original picture above:

©2006 Donalee Markus, Ph.D. & Associates. All rights reserved worldwide.
Analogy 2
Source: ©2006 Donalee Markus, Ph.D. & Associates. All rights reserved worldwide.

A, B, D, and E have placement changes.

B, C, and D have size changes.

B occurs in all three and is, therefore, the best answer.

So how does this help communication? In order to address the changes, we have to get in touch with how we see things—we may not see all three changes immediately, or someone else might see changes that are obvious to them that we don’t see at all. This awareness that there’s more than one way to address a problem, when practiced, can become habitual and be extrapolated into other aspects of our lives.

Ready to test yourself? Try it with others and see how differently you approach thinking about the solution.

©2006 Donalee Markus, Ph.D. & Associates. All rights reserved worldwide.
Analogy 3
Source: ©2006 Donalee Markus, Ph.D. & Associates. All rights reserved worldwide.
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