I am the head of my university’s computer science department and I always try to keep a protective eye on many of my students.
Recently one of them visited me for the first time and asked for help. I inquired whether he was a new student, and he answered that this was in fact his third year at the university but he had only passed a few courses and was at serious risk of being terminally suspended. So I checked his transcript to identify his problem and was shocked by what I saw. Why had he not sought help earlier? His answer was that he previously had bad experiences with two different advisers and thought no one could ever help him. I wondered aloud what had gone wrong with them, and he said in a melancholy way, “They did not care to listen or help!”
“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Most of my work at the university revolves around communication(s). Communication and communications are two similar words—differing only with the letter “s”—but their usages are quite different. While communication relates mainly to connecting people through speech and words, the latter relates to connecting electronic devices through the transmission of bits.
I teach Computer Network courses and I am the department head and as such dispense academic advice. In this duel role I frequently cross the boundaries between the two different worlds of communication; which means exchanging knowledge, skills and wisdom between these two worlds.
The basic foundation of both communication and communications is about creating a link between two entities. The quality of that connection is highly dependent on the predisposition of the entities involved. After establishing the connection, one of the entities starts to talk while the other needs to listen. So here again, whether the second node is listening or just hearing makes a big difference in the overall connection.
“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” — Jimi Hendrix
Next we go beyond establishing a link for creating a reliable network among the involved members. In this analogy with basic computer network protocols, we see that creating a network requires the following tasks:
- Connect with everyone, one person at a time, listen well and learn about their status.
- Synchronize the connections; make sure that people can understand each other.
- Balance the flow of information and ensure that no one is overwhelmed with the sent data or requested jobs.
- Be constantly aware of the possible occurrence of errors and give a helping hand in solving them.
- Be the glue among the different members, and create a resilient and efficient inter-network in spite of any possible differences.
- Provide a good interface to the external world by using all available modes of interconnection and social media.
I enjoy my work greatly because it enables me to constantly move between the two realms of communication and allows me to have a high level of interaction. Students talk to me, and I listen intently and empathize with them. They share with me their joy and problems. When I take time to listen, it’s amazing what I can learn from what they say and most importantly what they haven’t said.
Part of being a good communicator, or a “superconnector” as we call it now, is the ability to accept others for who they are and acknowledge that everyone is different in the way they perceive the world, in what they like or dislike. It is also important to let others feel that they are not alone, that we care for them and they can trust us.
Setting the stage this way, students are able talk freely and as a result their problems become less overwhelming and manageable. This is exactly what happened with my student after our discussion. We had found from reviewing his transcript together and talking about it, that much of his difficulty resulted from having chosen a university major he was not really interested in, a major he could not commit to whole heartedly. So he decided to change his study focus and direction, and he promised to keep coming for advice and help!
“Let’s remind ourselves that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.” — Pablo Neruda