I recently facilitated a conversation of senior level managers and executives on the topic of communication and issues that often obstructed the process. It was a robust exchange of ideas and it became obvious tht different styles were emerging. Often breaking along gender or generational lines, my challenge was not in determining styles or keeping the dialogue going, or even keeping track of the various thread of the conversation.
Everyone was eager to talk.
But few were eager to listen.
In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey asks the reader to first start with understanding. However I saw very little of that going on. I’ve read descriptions that tout women as being eager to develop affiliations and men eager to develop empires, but I observed that when it came to discussion, there was a whole lot of talking going on and not a lot of listening, let alone asking questions to insure a better understanding. I’ll admit that since I had just spent a fair amount of time going over the basics of effective communication, I was a bit dismayed.
Don’t think that I just watch this go on. I called one participant on this behavior. In describing metacommunication – talking about how we communicate – I used the ‘here and now’ observation of what was happening right in front of us and described the behavior that I saw as impeding the process. I noted that interrupting indicated that not only did it appear that listening was not going on, the person interrupting was so eager to make thier point that they were not letting the speaker make their point!
There was a pause. I think it was an attempt to be polite! I suggested that the speaker was trying to explain how they viewed the situation and the ‘listener’ was telling them that their perception was faulty without hearing them out. Not only was the ‘listener’ not listening, they were telling the speaker that what they were seeing and thinking was not accurate. And in the middle of trying to make my point, the ‘listener’ interrupted me.
I pointed out that again, this behavior was actually making my point! A few of the participants laughed at the recognition, but the ‘listener’ seemed annoyed. Not at themselves – at me, for pointing out the absence of listening.
It was humorous a the time – to a few.
Upon reflection, I feel badly that the opportunity to learn was missed. It’s possible that upon reflection, the ‘listener’ realized the point I was trying to make. Perhaps they thought about how few questions they asked. (In fact no questions were asked.) How little people truly listen. It’s not easy to slow the process down and think, reflect, stop talking, and ask questions. And ask more questions to get to a deeper level of understanding.
So many peope want to talk and be heard, but if everyone does that, who will listen?
It’s not east to stop talking. If you want effective communication – it’s essential.