We were having dinner a while ago - going around the table, each person sharing about their day. As a person was sharing something exciting, the familiar "voice mail received" rudely interrupted. Without a second thought, the message was tended to. We realized that this little intrusion stole a very precious moment from us.
“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals..." Henri Nouwen
Communication is critical, especially for healthy relationships. Communication can be tough even when we now have some many ways to do so like Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, Skype, WhatsApp, and the list goes on. So many voices clamoring for attention can be overwhelming. It is very easy to be drenched by all the communication but fail miserably to actually communicate.
The New Rude?
Now don't get me wrong - I am not a technophobe. In fact, I like new tech that improves communication but I wonder how much communicating is actually being done as we are constantly interrupted by funny ringtones, screen banners, or "message received"?
Even when we are together face to face - the devices that are designed to help us communicate better - seem to diminish our capacity to truly communicate. They rudely interupt and steal us away from one another. I will often ask my clients to turn off their phones when we meet. I want our time together to be meaningful. I want to focus on what they have to say, what they think and feel, and I can't do that effectively with the frequent digital interruption. I want my clients to be present to me (and me to them). This is address the quality of communication and a key for active listening.
How much communicating is actually being done as we are constantly interrupted by funny ringtones or "message received"?
Active listening is a skill. This means it is something we have to practice and develop. It is a skill of engaging with another in a deeper way. We are active in that we pay particular attention to what they say, what they don’t say, the words they use, their tone, and their body language. Active listening involves asking good open questions that help people get what they mean. It is a skill that can be a welcomed gift of fully present to others.
I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen. - Ernest Hemingway
5 Tips for Great Communication
Be attentive. Be aware of potential distraction and try to avoid them. It often helpful to sit facing one another. Eye contact is key with out coming off like a freaky staring contest. Turn off the phones, get them off the table. When you find yourself distracted, simply return your attention back to the conversation.
Be aware of tone. We are all aware of sarcasm for example - the same words can be used in two different situations, but inflection can change the meaning dramatically. Are they angry? Matter of fact? Heartbroken? These provide context for their words.
Watch body language. A few years back their was a popular television drama "Lie to Me" starring Tim Roth. Roths character was an expert at reading peoples micro-expressions. More than a neat idea for a fictional television series, it is based upon real science pioneered by Paul Ekman. However, one doesn't need to be an expert to notice most body language. A lot of it is hard wired into us - we just need to learn to be aware. Is their posture open or closed? What are their facial expressions saying? Like sarcasm, human beings can say one thing but how they posture themselves and their expressions can tell you how they really feel about what they are saying.
Reflective Empathetic feedback -To help ensure you are tracking with what the other is communicating is to offer reflective feedback based on the emotion you are hearing - this may look like "It sounds like you were pretty hurt? Or “sounds like you were happy with your progress". This gives the other person the opportunity to affirm or correct your interpretation of what they are saying.
Clarifying questions - "you said finer than a fox hair cut three ways - what did you mean?" Some cliche's and colloquialisms mean one thing to the speaker and quite another to the listener. Ask the clarifying questions. If you don't understand the chain of events, ask, if you don't understand how they were offend or hurt, ask.