Communication Bias

An Illustrative Story

There once was a woman that started each day by standing on her porch and proclaiming, “God is Great!”

An old man across the street would answer, “There is no God!” 

This exchange went on for years, and the woman fell on hard times. The man felt bad and left a bag of groceries on her front porch.

The next morning the woman came out and proclaimed, “God is great, and he has left food for me!”

The old man countered, “There is no God. I bought the groceries.”

The woman argued, “God is truly great! He delivered groceries and had the devil pay for them!”

Communication is not one way. It relies on a shared understanding. That means communication is often affected by differing levels of understanding, values, and bias. What we freely offer to people may be misinterpreted or simply not believed. Persuasion often means getting around the differences in understanding on both sides.  

How do we persuade the person that does not want to believe? 

Most reporters strive to be fair. However, they come into a story with their own bias — their own frame to see the story. At the same time, viewers who are not obligated (or often inclined) to be fair approach the same story from their frame.

There is an inherent conflict between what could be written and what is written OR between what could be understood and what is understood. It is a two-way street. News reporters do bring bias, but it is not always intentional. Viewers have a bias and will understand the meaning they want to understand from reporting.

In these days of partisan division, both sides are too quick to assume bias on the other side. Accurate reporting is ignored because it does not fit our worldview, while reporters forget to consider a larger perspective. While it is not possible to include every point of view in every news story, It is possible to seek a diversity of perspectives. At the same time, it would be just as helpful for viewers to let the other side talk before screaming fake news and changing the channel.

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