Posted by: Leigh Reynolds | March 23, 2011

Crank Down the Volume

I have taught workshops on effective communication… I’ve even been paid and flown across the country to do so, and I usually get pretty good reviews. So how come I still am guilty of miscommunication so often?!

The truth is, we all are. Communicating effectively with family, friends, co-workers, or even just the sales clerk is really rather challenging sometimes. There are two sides to it – what you say, and what someone else hears. We spend so much time focusing on what we want to say. When we feel we are not being heard, we dig in our heals and just talk louder. Or we go away, cease trying to communicate with that person not hearing us, and spend all our time talking to everyone else about what an idiot that person is that they didn’t hear me. BUT I WAS TALKING SO LOUDLY!

What we really should do is ask a few questions and spend more time listening. I can not think of a single person – and I put myself at the top of this list – that couldn’t benefit from honing their listening skills. And listening is an action – not a passive activity. Listen to someone’s body language. Listen to what their eyes are telling you. Listen to someone’s heart and hear what they mean. Listen to what they don’t say and spend some time and thought figuring out why. Don’t just focus on the words coming out of their mouth. We can miss so much.

Most people don’t miss your point because they are a jerk, or they don’t care about what you have to say. Most people just hear something different. Yet we all tend to assume “that jerk wasn’t listening and they don’t care about me, or respect me, or value me. I hate that jerk.” Then we tell 10 other people what a jerk that person is, can you believe them?! We drum up a support group for our negative feelings and fuel them.

I think about it this way… I say “do you know the color blue?” and you say, “Sure!” Imagine if we each went to a store and had to buy one piece of a matching blue outfit. I go to Target, you go to Macy’s, we meet up when we’re done shopping. The two items do not match at all. I have chosen a bright periwinkle blue and you have chosen a deep navy. The two items don’t match at all. We could each stand there, looking at the other half of the clashing outfit, thinking “What’s wrong with this idiot? We said blue!” And in reality, neither of us would be wrong, we were just seeing a different shade.

There are more than 55 different shades of blue… And there are at least that many different ways to see almost any situation. We each come into a room carrying the bags packed by our past experiences. These experiences color our outlook. The more we take the time to figure out where the other person is coming from, the more we can see their view and ultimately we can communicate ours.

In the end, what we all want is to be heard, and understood, and maybe a little appreciated. I think that sometimes the path the being heard is a quiet one. It begins with listening so that we can frame out what we want to say in such a way that the person on the receiving end can hear it. With all that shouting, you just get tuned out.

It won’t always work. Some people are jerks. But most people are not. If we all spent more time thinking about how someone else hears, what is coloring their view, rather than forming our next interjection, the world would be a much friendlier and more productive place. Imagine what we could all accomplish and imagine the amount of stress we would leave behind?!

So in a world that is constantly telling us to pump up the volume and let our voices be heard, I’d offer a different idea… Crank down the volume and listen a while.

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