Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Listen Up!

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

--Stephen Covey

In communicating with others, few things are more maddening than mind readers. Before hearing a word, these people have already decided that they completely understand the details of your story, the cut of your jib, the landscape of your beliefs, and the whereabouts of your feelings. Not actually being an all-knowing deity, such arrogance quashes all genuine communication. Effective communicators, on the other hand, are keen listeners with unending curiosity, men and women who seek to understand so as to be understood.

In my trainings for effective communication and persuasion, I often begin with a game I took from a Meisner acting class. After groups of have been formed in circles or 6 or more people, I explain that they are going to tell a story, one word at a time, one person after another. The rules are 1) you cannot use a word the person next to you just used; and 2) you must speak your word within a few seconds. If either of these rules is broken, the story must begin again. “The goal of this game is for your group to tell a story that sounds as if one person is speaking.”

And hilarity ensues: some guys draw a blank when it is their turn and some repeat the previous word. During the first debrief I always ask, “Did any of you draw a blank because you choose a word before it was your turn and, when it became your turn to speak, the word didn’t fit?” Over half the people will raise their hands. When we are already know what we are going to say, we are not truly listening, not in the flow of the story, not in the moment.

After a few more attempts, the stories always begin to flow—but never in the direction the people assumed the story would go. My favorite one was where A. Boy. Was. Given. Money. By. His. Mother. To. Go. To. The. Store. And. Buy. Milk. The boy ended up buying some weed, was caught by a detective, but was granted immunity because he helped bring down a drug kingpin. You never know where the story is going to go! And herein lies the lesson: You. Don’t. Know. You. Can’t. Know. This is why listening is so critical.

When a mind reader assumes “I already know what you are going to say and already know what I’m going to say,” all we are going to “share” are simultaneous monologues. If, however, we want to actually communicate with others, then we will throw away our prepared speeches, put aside our judgments for a few moments, and open up our minds and hearts to those with whom we are communicating. Believe me: you will be amazed by the evolution of the stories and, quite often, the evolution of the relationship.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment