Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Listen Better

In our world of friendly acquaintances there have been a couple of recent communication failures. Both of these failures occurred using modern technologies, and both turned out to be rather “epic”, as the kids would say. They’ve got me thinking about communication, the exchange of information.

Where does the responsibility lie when we enter into a conversation? Let’s define a conversation as the interaction between two people during which there is a purposeful transfer of some kind of information. Let’s refine that by saying that in this day and age we cannot define a conversation as simply as two people talking with one another. We have email, texts, FB chats and PM’s, Twitter @’s and PM’s, phone calls and Skype, and of course plain old face-to-face talking.

So, who has the responsibility to ensure effective transfer of information? Upon whom does it rest to make sure that facts or ideas have been successfully transmitted and received? How about the emotional content, the feelings that ride along with the data? Sometimes the emotional content is really the data that’s intended for transfer and is quite obvious, like the color guard accompanying a General. Oft times, though, the feelings attached to the words are as carefully and craftily hidden as a stowaway on a cruise ship.

Here’s my bid: the responsibility lies on BOTH sides of the conversation. Active, two-way listening is key. Engaging in the conversation means engaging the individual on the other side. It starts with the choice of vehicle and the recipient.  To whom am I sending this message? On the receiving end the vehicle should also be evaluated: who sent this to me? Think about it…the universe of topics on which you would engage your 75 year old grandparents via text is awfully darned small, and if you are a grandparent who texts you can’t “receive” disrespect in a text message filled with contractions and lingo–they come with the turf.

Some types of communication are not a conversation at all. For example, a status update is like a billboard, meant to be one-way, neither demanding nor expecting a reply. A conversation, on the other hand, is by definition bilateral. It requires active listening and anticipatory listening on the part of both people. One must be conscious of what that other person is hearing while you “speak. Indeed, you have to be “listening” even when it is you who is sending the message, actively trying to understand what your listener hears, anticipating the effect of your message. Fully formed communication involves giving thought to the effect of your transmission prior to hitting “send”, anticipatory listening.

A shared understanding of the power as well as the limitation of each method one might choose to utilize is necessary. A smaller vehicle creates a greater distance and so must transfer more basic information. More nuance or emotional content requires a different vehicle, at once larger (to include the details) and smaller and more intimate (so that each emotion can be seen as well as heard).

In the end we are social creatures, driven always to connect. The rules of communication have not really changed despite our ever-increasing connection and communication utilities. The more important the interaction the closer we must be to one another. Communication, no matter what vehicle we choose, requires that we listen better. Listen to what is said to us; listen to what we are saying; listen to what others hear. The responsibility for a successful communication is shared equally by everyone involved. Despite our newfangled world filled with ever more varied and convenient ways to communicate, the most effective strategy hasn’t changed in a few thousand years:

Listen better.


Posted by bingo at September 30, 2012 6:20 AM


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