I was sharing with someone recently what I do as a Communication Coach and his response was rather telling:
“Oh that’s not something I struggle with,” he declared, “I have no trouble telling people exactly what I think!”
All too often, this is what we reduce effective communication to: telling people what we think. Did I get my point across, we wonder. Did they understand me? Do they agree with me? Did they think I was funny or clever or right? These questions buzz in our minds drowning out the otherside of the conversation. The interaction becomes more and more about ensuring they got what I said, that they validate me or like me, than it ever becomes about mutual connection. This type of conversation does not simply lead to relationships that exist as a one-way street, it leads us down a dead end!
When the most important factor in a conversation or relationship is whether I get to say what I think, there’s not very far that relationship can grow. In this limited paradigm, there is only agreement/disagreement; win/lose; right view/wrong view. There is no room for curiosity about our differing views, for collaboration across perceived barriers or for celebrating diverse perspectives. Their is no opprtunity for mutual understanding, for collectively experiencing being heard or for genuine acknowledgement.
And that’s the primary reason we fail to build meaningful relationships. Whether at work, or at home, with friends or business associates, when we’re faced with someone elses’s perspective, we automatically fire off our own emphatic opinions or fixed points of view. Although we yearn for a connection with others that is rewarding, respectful and inspiring, we aren’t willing to give up the grounds for ever being right at all in exchange for the possibility of discovering a real lasting connection.
While self-expression is an important component of effective communication, it is by no means the critical component. Without active listening – listening with a real interest in what someone is saying, and the underlying commitment, emotion and concern they are expressing – we cannot deepen the relationship. We cannot build real connection. We cannot fully discover ourselves in communion with others.
It is only when we quietly listen, that we’ll begin to hear how deaf we have been to the concerns, experience and commitment of others…and discover our shared humanity.
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