Through words – The διάλόγο (dialogo)
Il dialogo ippocratico. La comunicazione medica nell'antica Grecia, con alcune proposte per migliorare il linguaggio sanitario attuale.
Introduction: what is Dialogue?
Although many of the most used words have been part of a language for very long time, usually there is no time to reflect deeply on those words’ meanings. It has been proven instead that knowing their etymology helps people to reach a better and a deeper level of understanding. Moreover, in my view, knowing where a word comes from is not only relevant but intriguing as well. Ancient Greeks had a really great creativity when it came to invent new words or to express themselves through new concepts and this makes all the knowledge process way more fascinating in my opinion. It is worth recalling of the word for “democracy” which comes from dēmos (= people) and kratos (= rule), or the word for “biology” composed of bios (= life) and lògos (= study). Quite remarkable also the word for “philosopher” or literally “lover of wisdom” (from filo and sofos). Coming back to the topic, where does the word “dialogue” come from?
A very basic study of Greek can immediately recognize that this word is composed by two different parts: the prefix diá that means “through, across, by, over” and logos, “speech”
Any dictionary would say that the dialogue is “a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people. A confrontation that runs through a variable number of persons – not necessarily two – as a tool to express different feelings and discuss about ideas and points of view”. (Treccani) Is that it? It is not. Its definition is so much more complex than this, and therefore I find the etymology so much better to explain the concept. Purpose of this essay, is to reflect on dialogue from another angle, pondering upon possible profitable implications in the customer service.
Now that the meaning has been analyzed, it will worth examining the challenges that that people may possibly have while communicating and the characteristics that a dialogue should have to be effective.
Why dialogue could not be efficient?
Talking the same language is not usually a guarantee to let people understand each other’s. There are constantly misunderstandings and at the best incomprehension.
Even when apparently, everything seems to be fine and understood, it is not that easy to say what someone truly means to say. Knowing that a sent message has not been understood correctly by the receiver generates a failure in the process. Culture affects every day’s communication, and the same upbringings may interfere in it. Is it this what ancient Greeks meant when they thought of something “among the speech”? Culture has to be read not just as education, but it can be defined as all the ways of life including beliefs, attitudes, customs and so much more.
Not to mention day’s feelings, different moods, irritability, infatuation and all those kind of situations where a person could fear or hope receiving a message when they don’t instead and they misinterpret what they get. Culture and feelings can deeply influence assumptions and even the basic meanings of words. They are barriers in the process that of course create ineffective communication. It is crucial to find instead a solution and to improve on communication skills, especially within a business where management and employees have to be encouraged to interact among each other to reach organizational goals together.
Rules for an effective dialogue
Before analyzing the characteristics that a message should have in order to be efficient, it is useful to remind what we would need a message for. I would assume that if someone send a message, it is because it is somehow important. It could be for any reason, but without no doubt there is always a deepest motivation behind the willing to give someone a word, a speech, or a text of any kind. Vice versa, it is likewise important to fully understand the meaning of a message that a person may want to communicate. Alberto Jori describes the dialogue as “first of all a tool, or, to put it more precisely, the tool to impart awareness.” (Jori 2018, p. 36) and assuming that knowledge is always valuable, every kind of dialogue is relevant as well. Considering that it is not the meaning of this essay to debate about all the purposes that a dialogue would have though, let us focus for now on extreme situations or rather messages that they are necessarily important because the health of people can depend on those. There are certain situations where challenges may arise when the topic is not suitable for all in everyday life. Some professionals could have for example a specialized vocabulary that the most of us are not used to hearing.
I consider the example from medicine as important as it is appropriate. Doctors are often used to sharing information on a too specialistic level to be comprehended by everyone. It can make the dialogue too pretentious and pompous, and this may cause obviously disorientation, anxiety on their patients and even worse a wrong cure (Serianni 1999, 103). On the other hand, this kind of vocabulary is also necessary to create trust and authority. Without it the psychological aspect in the patient’s mind would be less and so his/her confidence in the therapist. Estimating that the success in the treatment depends mostly on an effective communication, I deem it convenient to mention all the characteristics that a message should have.
A good communication strategy takes time, but it is practicable. As I mentioned before it is a key aspect of a successful therapy as much as in running a business, whether it is related to medicine or is not.
- An essential nature.
First, a message should always be basic, essential. In its shortness it should include all the necessary and crucial information that a person needs to understand. Dialogue always needs to be fully comprehensive, and the most effective way to let it be that way is do not give it space for misunderstandings. I consider it crucial to be concise and consistent at the same time. Customers do not want to waste time, they only want to understand and to have the service they are paying for.
- Less information, more performance.
Quality over quantity. There should be a limit on the quantity of information that a message should include or this would hamper its comprehension. By the end of a long sentence a reader or a listener may have forgotten the main point of what is being said. This can make the entire message unclear for any customer who may misinterpret the sentences, causing only confusion and the dialogue to be fruitless. A valuable example comes from the “less is more” approach which has been a winning marketing trend lately.
- Easily decipherable.
Finally, a message should include only known words and they should be used in the most common acceptation. The same Jori again quotes an article that shows that sometimes it is enough for a term to be unknown to make an entire period incomprehensible. (Rasario 2010). A good example is again from medicine. As a matter of fact, a doctor is supposed to talk with patients giving them easily understandable information, but it could have happened to anyone to have heard too refined or uncommon words from a therapist. Using words like “intake”, “unfortified”, “polyuria”, “disorder” could generate confusion without the right knowledge which in any case has been always developed and within everybody’s reach nowadays. It is convenient recalling that knowing both the intrinsic purpose of the message and the person to start the communication with helps to send a more understandable one.
Through -and behind- words
The focus has been placed until now on how to put the dialogue in words. What the dialogue would be without listening? Coming back to medicine-related examples, Plato shows too how therapeutic success essentially depends on the establishment of an authentic dialogic relationship between doctor and patient. A relationship of this kind should represent in fact one of the primary goals for the therapist to make the treatment successful. (Jori 2018, 30) Understanding what and how a patient or a customer is expressing is essential and it is the specialist’s duty to listen actively to it. Something I noticed from my experiences as a dietician in Italy, with respect to dialogue, has to do with the use of accurate and absolute terms to describe quantities. Using relative and subjective terms like “many”, “few”, “much”, etc. easily leads to misunderstanding as the professional and each patient can have a drastically different understanding for them. It has been most of the time challenging to understand how much pasta that person did eat. For many “a lot of pasta” meant fifty grams and for other “not so much” meant more than two hundred grams only in lunchtime. Another appropriate example comes from “yesterday I literally stuffed myself!”, which meant sometimes “I ate an entire package of biscuits” and for others (mostly persons with eating disorders) could have meant “yesterday afternoon I ate an apple”. These experiences have been valuable since for me, remembering also that understanding during the treatment had been considerably improved whenever also the relationship between me, the therapist, and the customer grew. This is because dialogue works in parallel with listening and trust and this combining creates more accessibility to understanding.
In summary diá logos or again “between the speech” many aspects have to been put in consideration and every one of them is important to make the communication effective. Listening is a big part of the dialogue and knowing your client and being aware of who you are referring to remains the best strategy to keep in mind in order to talk with them more effectively. Information has to be measured depending on the situation and on a case-by-case basis. Giving too much information could be useless and only frustrating for someone. As I mentioned before, for a successful communication, the professional should avoid using subjective regular terms, and at the same time should help the patients define more accurately and objectively their definition of words. In fact, also in my experience, customers tended to use the same term but giving it a different meaning even though they spoke the same language. Technicalities are important, and specialists must use them. It would be absurd to expect doctors not to talk in medicalese or lawyers in legalese. Nevertheless, it is possible to find and reach a compromise between too pretentious and unreachable words and a more understandable language to assure an effective communication between specialists and clients. At the base of a successful dialogue there is in any case trust in every kind of business relationship, which it has been proved to effectively support communication.
- Dizionario Treccani. https://www.treccani.it/vocabolario/dialogo/. Read 07.02.2022.
- Jori, A., 2018. Il dialogo ippocratico. La comunicazione medica nell’antica Grecia, con alcune proposte per migliorare il linguaggio sanitario attuale. Palermo: Nuova Ipsa.
- Serianni, L., 1999. Saggi di storia linguistica italiana. Napoli
- Rasario, G., 2010. Manuale di semeiotica medica. Napoli: Idelson – Gnocchi