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Relational Reflections: Yes, another blog, and this one’s from Dr. Nadine and Dr. Zan at True Heights

The Most Important Part of Communication

Dr. Zan’s Thoughts:

When you think of a strong communicator, what images come to mind? Likely, you are picturing someone who is standing up, well-dressed, and oozing cleverness. This person speaks with equal parts confidence and eloquence. There is power in their manner and their words--the ability to capture attention and sway decision makers to the speaker’s point of view. Okay, so maybe I am describing someone on the TED stage, and I do admit to fully enjoying a well crafted TED talk or podcast.  However, I am also only speaking of part of the skill that comprises strong communication--granted it’s the sexier part that gets all of the attention. Yet, I would argue that communication is at least equally reliant upon strong listening skills.

When Dr. Nadine and I recently presented to a group of school administrators, we literally put up a slide that said the following: Communication = Talking, right? We even raised the question as to whether listening is a lost art. Certainly our cultural reliance upon sound bite communication has shifted some of our connection opportunities away from face to face or voice to voice contact--giving us less opportunity to practice traditional communication skills. However, I submit to you that taking every opportunity to listen fully is a worthwhile endeavor. 

When I listen fully to others, I often discover that there is far less need for the voluminous amount of verbiage I would otherwise offer. Sometimes the whole of what another human being needs is to be heard. This sounds like the easiest gift I could offer, and yet it is often quite difficult. Many of us suffer from the illusion that we “know better” for another person. My own training as a psychologist has put me at risk for this belief at times, and yet I know that I do my best work when I trust the person I am with to find their own wisdom within. 

Other times, when I listen fully, I discover that the person speaking needs only to know that they are not alone, that there is support for them and care about their challenges. There is no call to action or need for me to teach. I can just offer human connection and presence. If I don’t listen carefully, I’m likely to miss that. 

Occasionally there is someone who wants to hear my opinion, my perspective, or to tap into some expertise I’ve been fortunate to cultivate. When they want to hear from me, invariably, they will ask. The more I work with people, the more I realize that waiting for that invitation to offer input is incredibly valuable. By first completing the task of listening, the words I ultimately choose to offer are much more fitting and useful. And this listening thing is so great--it’s not just for others. I can actually choose to listen to myself too. I can engage with my feelings, my gut reactions, my inner voice so that my own “stuff” does not get in the way. Listening to myself frees me to be more available to connect and to help.

Recently, I was directed to this amazing TED talk by William Ury, who is a big fan of listening as well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saXfavo1OQo

I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion that there is far too little effort toward teaching this skill and using it effectively, but true listening holds the power to transform relationships and bring peace. Why not join a “listening revolution”?

Dr. Nadine’s Reflections:

Ah, “communication”.  The topic seems recently to be on everyone’s lips (literally and figuratively!).  It never gets old as a topic of interest, because it’s a foundational component of all of our relationships in life.  Good communication can enhance an exchange between people, or completely derail it, if not done effectively.  

I think I’m keenly aware of what makes up effective communication because I’m a psychologist.  Dr. Zan just reminded us of the importance of listening.  In doing therapy, I first have to LISTEN to what my patient is saying, including all the subtleties and nuances that he may or not be aware of.  And then I have to construct a response in such a way as to maximize how well that person is able to receive it. Everybody has filters through which they hear messages, and I have to figure out which are the filters being used by each person I see.

I’ll bet you’ve had experiences, as have I, in which you’ve said something to someone, only to have that person become curiously defensive.  You find yourself saying, “well, that’s not what I meant!”, and backtracking in the conversation. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Your intent is being transformed by the other person’s receptivity.  That’s why listening really is the first, critical component of productive conversation. You have to hear what the other is saying, before you can offer a meaningful response.

Listening also ensures that the conversation isn’t “all about YOU”.  You may have some great ideas, suggestions, insights, etc., but, as Dr. Zan implies, no one really wants to hear your brilliant notions until they ask for them.  There is no such thing as a one-sided conversation. If you’re doing all the talking, I promise, no one is listening.

So my recent experience of this came over the past weekend.  I was consulting with several professionals who expressed their frustration with their leadership.  They described their bosses as spending much time informing and directing the workplace constituency, but little time REALLY listening to those same people.  It resulted in a dismissal by the workers of the leaders’ messages, and an uninspired response from the staff. Probably not the successful outcome hoped for by all...

It’s a bit trickier in our personal lives, and I’ve had to discern and distill the differences between talking with someone professionally, and talking with someone personally.  Not as easy as you might imagine! The communication skills are often the same, but the investments in, and outcomes of, the conversations are very different. I dare say we might all be a little more cavalier with our dear ones than our colleagues.  But if you think about it, why would we want to be less respectful, less thoughtful, less diligent in promoting beneficial exchanges with those closest to us than with those in whom we have a smaller stake? Why would we offer less to our dear ones?

So learning to listen -- without reacting (that’s another whole blog topic in itself!) -- is the challenge.  Start there. And how about just making it a fun challenge? So it’s Sunday morning, as I write this, and I’m listening!  I’m sharpening my listening skills by attending to the subtleties of nature. I’m hearing lots of different bird calls; I’m hearing the ducks and the peacock across the street; I’m hearing a dog in the distance along with the horses and the donkey that lives nearby; the insects are beginning to buzz in the heat...As my Dear One says, it’s like living in a zoo!

I’m enjoying my own “listening revolution”, and it’s truly bringing me peace.  Enjoy yours!

#trueheightsconsulting #listeningrevolution #mindfulness



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