The Downfall of Labels and Miscommunication

20131014-134907.jpgWhat if you switched the word “interrupter” with “correction”?

What if you switched the word “punisher” with “interrupter”?

Does the label truly affect what is actually occurring? Is the label all that separates “all positive” trainers from “balanced” trainers? Is our difference in vocabulary the main difference between our training? Is it even fair to label people as “balanced,” “force-free,” “purely positive,” or otherwise?

Sarah Fulcher of Barks and Recreation in Canada could not have put it better:

The scientific definition of punishment is anything that causes a decrease in behaviour. That means a correction can be a punishment, but it can also be an interrupter.

An interpreter is just meant to stop at the time, won’t necessarily stop over time but can. If it does decrease over time it’s a punishment technically.

Lay man term of punishment is generally something harsh and often after the incident (consequence).

Positive dog trainer idea of correction is usually harsh and physical.

Balanced trainer idea of correction would more commonly fit a positive trainers idea of an interrupter.

We are often saying and doing the same things but have very different ideas and reactions to the words each other use.

I believe semantics arise from a lack of understanding of the big picture and a lack of understanding of the terminology. Basically, it comes from a narrow-minded point of view. Instead of looking at the general message, one might get caught up in the specific meanings of each word in a sentence – analyzing the definition and connotation of each word. The powerful thing about sentences though, is that they can make the meaning and intention of the word change based on the rest of the sentence. I’m not saying that the meaning of each word is insignificant. I’m saying that what matters most are the words that surround that particular word and how the sentence and context are interpreted.

As a positive reinforcement based trainer, I often speak to clients who don’t know the professional terminology needed to accurately describe their situation. It is up to me to interpret the context and the results, and then to reply with basic terms they can comprehend. It helps drastically if I can see first-hand what is happening, because sometimes words and labels just don’t cut it.

Unfortunately, this talent is lost when it comes to professionals communicating to each other. People get stuck in their opinions of what terms should mean and it halts communication. It also seems as if professional trainers expect all professional trainers to understand and have the same definitions for every term that is used when in fact, I have found, many professionals don’t understand the vocabulary correctly in the first place. People get frustrated and then the conversation goes down hill. Some words have become big triggers for people on both “sides” and people immediately react badly to seeing those words instead of taking a step back and seeing the big picture.

The online discussion format is incomplete and extremely challenging since non-verbal communication is taken out of the picture. This leaves room for misinterpretation as well.

I say, lets use the skills we use with clients (being able to interpret their misuse of words) on other professionals we come across. Not everyone has the exact definitions of terms down pat (and that goes for people on either “side”). Reacting to words instead of listening to the whole context does nothing, but frustrate everyone in the discussion. Using positive reinforcement techniques on people has helped me relax and be more peaceful with my interactions with other trainers – just like it did with dogs.