To mark the one-year anniversary of Vanilla's "Let's Look At It This Way", I would like to begin this 203rd article with a little story by a 7-year old.
The Story of Gumbo & Muffin
"There was a dog named Gumbo and a cat named Muffin. They were neighbors and they went to the same school.
Gumbo and Muffin fought all the time. Gumbo would bark loudly at Muffin and Muffin would meow angrily back at him. They rarely talked. When they did, they could hardly understand each other. As the days went by, the fighting went on. Neither felt there was anything wrong.
One day, Gumbo decided to just listen to what Muffin had to say. He thought that her meows actually sounded nice and he would like to listen to her more. This time, he did not bark back at Muffin.
Muffin was happy that Gumbo was LISTENING and she too began like how Gumbo sounded. They began to talk and the fighting stopped."
Communication is 2-Way
The story is puerile but the message is not.
In our everyday life, we are either Gumbo or Muffin. When we talk, we expect others to listen but we often forget that it works both ways. In our eagerness to be heard, we inadvertently or deliberately deprive others from being heard.
"We were given two ears but only one mouth because God knew that listening was twice as hard as talking." You must have heard that one before but have you ever pondered over it?
Exactly a year ago, I posted my 'inaugural' article here (Let's Look At It This Way). In it, I said that 'communication' is 'nothing more than a cliche.. a catachresis'. We often thought that we know how to communicate and we have always meant what we say. We use the term 'communiation' loosely and each of us mean it differently.
The biggest problem with 'communication' is that, most of us forget that it is two-way. How many times in your life have you said "See, I told you so"? The number must have been numerous.
Each time you say that, you demonstrate your assumption that your communication is complete the moment you say whatever you want to say. In actual fact, it is not complete until it is received by your listeners, in the way you want it to be and in the way it should be.
On the other hand, as listeners, we ought to realise that it is not possible for a speaker to throw information to us in the same manner that a dart player tosses darts at a passive dartboard. We need ACTIVE listening.
It is extremely difficult to receive information when our mouth is moving information out at the same time. A good listener should stop talking when another is doing it. He should do nothing more than the use receptive langauge such as "Uh huh."
A good listener should react to the ideas presented rather than the persons. A good listener should ask questions rather than pose personal opinion on the information given. A good listener should NEVER interrupt by cutting in with "I know! I know!"
A good listener needs to work on the 'inside' as well, as he needs to CONCENTRATE on what the speaker is saying. We cannot process the information if we are busy arguing mentally or passing judgment in our heads. An open mind is key to active listening.
Personally, I have lots of work to do.
There are many aspects of communication skills which I have to work on and effective listening features prominently as one of the top items. My listening habits are bad as many people's are. People like us have a lot of habit-breaking to do. Habit-breaking is real hard work but NOT impossible.
Habit-breaking requires self-awareness, determination and focus. I intend to work on my problem and be guided by these key elements in active listening which I have gathered from MindTools. I hope they will benefit you too. For brevity, I will just outline the main points:
1. Pay attention
Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognize that what is not said also speaks loudly. You would also need to “listen” to your speaker's body language as well.
2. Show that you are listening
Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention. You may nod occasionally, smile or use other facial expressions. It is also good to encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like ‘yes’ and ‘uh huh’.
3. Provide feedback
Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect on what you hear and ask questions. It helps if you paraphrase or summarize the speaker's comments periodically.
4. Defer judgment
Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message. Allow the speaker to finish and do not interrupt with counter-arguments.
5. Respond Appropriately
Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective by listening. It serves no purpose if you attack the speaker and put him or her down. You can assert your opinions but do so with respect. Treat the other person in the same way as how you would want to be treated.
Learn from the Chinese
The Chinese have long known the intricacies of the art of listening. The Chinese writing is done in the form of logograms which are visual symbols representing words. The symbols for 'listening' could not have been better represented by this character (above).
The Chinese believe that you need to use your eyes, ears, heart and give your undivided attention as if the speaker is the king and really listen to what is being said to you.
I speak of continuous learning all the time and effective listening couldn't have been more useful in learning. From now on, let's use our eyes, ears, heart and commit to active listening. It is better to listen in order to understand than to listen in order to reply.
Lastly, thanks for 'listening' to Vanilla over the last one year.
~ M. Scott Peck ~