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Listening and being listened to

I think communication should be straightforward and simple. Look at children, they start communication by screaming and laughing, then, as they learn the first words, they start asking for things and persons. With their first sentences, wonderfully blunt and magical views of the surrounding world are stated. They don’t seem to worry about being believed or not, or even about being heard, they just keep repeating their requests and opinions. This is the purest form of communication. Only around the age of 6 or 7 kids realize that communication is a tool they need to master in order to get what they want. This is the age when they start learning to manipulate the truth or other people for a living.

We all use communication to get attention or influence, by persuading others, so outward communication is essentially selfish. That’s why, the better we learn to use communication for our goals, the better we need to learn to listen too, offering the people around us our attention and the chance to influence us in turn, offering them the stage. When somebody is telling you straightforwardly: “you don’t listen”, a deep frustration goes with this reproach, emanating from the pain of not being seen and acknowledged as a human being.

Communication is an immensely complex process, by which people relate to each other. exchanging intimate parts of their inner fabric. The result of true communication is always change. I am adopting a part of you and you are taking in a part of me. It’s never only ideas, In essence, it’s the disclosure and mutual adoption of the unique way each of us perceives the world, thinks and feels about it. I can never truly understand my counterpart, if I don’t allow him or her views to influence me, if I don’t lay my own conclusions or even convictions on the gambling table, well capable of losing them.

But here’s a lot to win too. When I gamble with my conclusions in a debate, I can win new ones, more complex and stronger ones, conclusions that include my previous ones, enriched by the ideas of my counterparts. Unlike a Poker game – the analogy here is all too clear – gambling with your conclusions is always a win-win game. Nobody loses anything, your only risk is to win. Sounds unbelievable, right?

And there’s a Poker game with even higher stakes than gambling only with our convictions: bringing to the table your uncertainties too. This shows real trust in and respect for your peers because It’s a real investment. Don’t your uncertainties define you more than your convictions? So, what’s the Jackpot in this game? It’s much more than information, conclusions or convictions, the Jackpot is to be seen and accepted as a human being, it’s comfort and trust, it’s the inception of a new and deeper level of communication, that bears the seeds of fulfillment and growth in it. There are also higher risks associated: being manipulated, humiliated, left for a fool. It’s up to you to set the appropriate boundaries.

So, knowing the stakes and risks of real communication, we are probably better equipped for addressing the reproach: “you don’t listen” Maybe, the first step would be to acknowledge it and ask yourself why your counterpart feels that you are not listening or not listening enough to him or her. It could be that you are simply not providing enough feedback, or the feedback you provide is confusing your counterpart. For him, it’s like throwing a coin into a vending machine and not getting anything out. Not even a buzz, or an error message. What’s even more irritating than losing your money, is not knowing why. Did the coin get stuck, is the vending machine out of products, or should you just give it some more time?

There are so many possible reasons for failing to acknowledge your counterpart by providing too little or inappropriate feedback. Some of these reasons are quite reasonable. For instance, if you perceive the message as not being true or sincere, but know from experience that your counterpart will go to lengths to defend it, you may feel reluctant to give untrue feedback or engage in a lengthy debate with foreseeable outcome. While feeling uncomfortable about it, you’ll most likely try to avoid giving any feedback. Or, in a situation where your counterpart doesn’t really request you to listen, but rather to obey, you may want to avoid giving away the fact that you don’t intend to obey.

There’s another reason why you may not be able to listen to your counterpart. I’d like to emphasize on this one because I personally found it to be the most difficult to manage and surpass. It’s when you can’t listen because you feel you are not listened to, not necessarily in that specific moment, but over a longer period of time. In that case and with that specific person, you are actually not really present in the ongoing discussion, because you got stuck at some point in the past where you had an important message for that person that didn’t get through. So now, you are the one not feeling acknowledged by your counterpart and acknowledging him or her feels unilateral and unfair in the long run. That event could lay so distantly in the past, that you may not even remember it. You are however stuck with a resistance and incapacity to listen and open up to that person, which will eventually lead to a communication blockage.

Of course, arrogance is also a frequent reason for which communication goes one way. The illusion of owning the truth or the superiority of one’s points of view makes communication obsolete. There is nothing to gain when communicating with a self-proclaimed owner of truth.

I’m sure there are many more causes than the few depicted above for broken or blocked communication, the result is however always the same: frustration and disappointment, leading, if unsolved, to anger and crisis. So, addressing the Elephant in the Room is a must, if we want to avoid the crisis to come.

If we can make a full stop in an ongoing communication, leave the actual subject aside and talk about the root cause, adjusting the way we relate to our counterpart, that would create the premisses for real exchange. There’s a small catch though, While doing so, we must be willing to accept our own mistakes that led to miscommunication and not judge our counterpart for his or her own – in our perception – mistakes.

Unfortunately, making a full stop to address the Elephant is seldom possible. Lucky you, if you can tell your boss that he is trying to give you orders while pretending to have an open discussion, or tell your client that he’s not the owner of truth. In all these cases, it’s useful to acknowledge the root cause, the silent Elephant and do your best at taking care of your own frustration, while avoiding irritating your counterpart unnecessarily. You’ll have to give up the possibility of having real communication and limit yourself to whatever secondary goals you can pursue, like not losing an argument, not losing face, not being forced to do what you don’t want to. If you need to pursue a positive goal, like convincing your counterpart to take an action, or adopt a point of view, I’m afraid you’ll need to resort to techniques like manipulation, intimidation, blackmail, or other methods belonging to the toolset of a negotiator. This is when communication becomes about winning or losing advantages and stops being about our human need to open up, perceive, be perceived and learn. Acknowledging the type of communication you are engaged in, allows you to correctly chose the appropriate tools: openness vs. dissimulation, honesty vs. manipulation.

Whatever type of communication you are engaged in at the surface, even a totally silent one, you cannot stop the deep exchange of perceptions. The way you will relate to your counterpart in the future, depends sometimes less on the outcome of your discussion, than on the subtle impressions you exchanged under the table. You can’t suppress honesty in communication however complex the dissimulation techniques you use, because people can’t avoid connecting on a subconscious level. This is great news!

By embracing the complexity of human communication you no longer need to force it to go one way or the other, allowing it to be free and fluid and realize that, the only advantage you need in communication over your peers is acknowledging its essence, understanding its multiple levels and stakes and allowing it, when possible, to become a satisfying, immersive experience.


2 Responses to “Listening and being listened to”

  1. Good

    Posted by Adi Subagiyo | November 22, 2019, 12:20 am
  2. Good article

    Posted by Adi Subagiyo | November 22, 2019, 12:21 am

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