Friday, March 20, 2009

Speaking and Listening (Mar 16)

I'm typing outside this afternoon – the sun is setting over the mountains and the courtyard of my apartment complex resounds with the sound of chirping birds. Blue skies, fresh air, and, for the first time in a long time, I don't have anything horribly pressing about which to worry. I know I won't allow myself that luxury next week, but, at least today, I can take time to stop and smell the flowers (serendipitously, there's a potted begonia on the table next to me). This week was a good week. I turned in the final copies of my thesis on Monday, which completely sealed my graduation with Honors come April. Done.

On Tuesday I attended my Institute of Religion class and learned an interesting concept that has been pressing on my mind. The class I attend is called “Eternal Marriage” (yes, almost all the students are engaged or married, and, no, I don't yet have any major prospects) and we spoke about the importance of learning to communicate well. Our instructor claimed that 70% of relationship problems result from miscommunication – if both parties were simply understood, the problem would cease to exist. We learned a technique called the Speaker-Listener Technique.

To be truthful, I had mixed feelings when I first heard him mention the Speaker-Listener Technique. His cursory explanation was that the only person allowed to talk was holding “the floor” (a pen, or piece of carpet, or whatever). The other person wasn't allowed to talk until he held "the floor." That first explanation didn't seem to be very worthwhile and I couldn't think of a reason why I would ever submit to doing something so reminiscent of first grade. But I have loved this Institute class and I've appreciated everything else the teacher has taught, so I went in with an open mind.

We began by watching a few short video clips done by a marital counseling center. Various couples were trying to work through their problems on film and all of them were failing miserably. They simply weren't communicating – neither one was really listening to the other. The commentator intervened, taught them the Speaker-Listener Technique, and asked them to commit to following it... and suddenly what was before a screaming match became an opportunity to understand one another. It was still intense, but both people were actively trying to understand the other... and it looked like there was actually hope for them in solving their problems! Here's an overview of the method:

Speaker-Listener Technique

General Rules

  • The speaker has the floor.

  • When the speaker is understood after a few short statements, the floor transfers to the Listener and roles are reversed.

  • No problem solving – the goal is not to fix a problem but to seek understanding.

  • Any nonverbal gestures to show your opinion are not allowed.

Rules for the Speaker

  • Speak only for yourself. Don't mind read. Use “I” statements.

  • Don't go on and on. Be brief.

  • Stop and let the Listener paraphrase. If the paraphrase is not quite accurate, gently restate what you meant to say in a way that helps your partner understand.

Rules for the Listener

  • Focus on what is being said and do not make any mental judgment while you listen.

  • Paraphrase what you hear. If you truly do not understand something the Speaker said you can ask for clarification.

  • Don't rebut. Wait until you get the floor before you make your response.

After watching the short clips, I thought that perhaps the Speaker-Listener Technique might be good for problem solving if you have two people who are so obsessed about their opinion that they can't communicate. But I still couldn't really ever see myself using it. Our teacher then added a Gospel application and expanded the technique's appeal as he told a story about his own marriage. One day he was in the car with his wife as they began a long road trip. His mother-in-law called and spoke with his wife. After the call was completed, the car was completely silent – he could feel the tension. He knew there was a problem, but didn't know how to broach the subject. So he picked up a CD (a makeshift “floor”) and asked, “Do you want the floor, or do you want me to have it?” “What do you want to talk about?” was her reply. “Help me to understand your relationship with your mother,” he said, and he handed her the CD. Over the course of the next few hours during their trip, he learned things that he hadn't learned in dozens of years of marriage – and he and his wife grew closer through the experience.

Suddenly I realized that the Speaker-Listener Technique wasn't just about solving problems. It was about creating a safe environment in which everyone involved could communicate clearly and know that they would be completely understood. Looking back on my own relationships, I can definitely identify times when I or others involved weren't able to communicate clearly. For whatever reason, we weren't on the same page, and something kept us from getting there easily. If I had known about the importance of speaking and listening, perhaps I would have been able to communicate more clearly.

Each of us is surrounded by people every day of our lives. And even if we are social butterflies (which I am not), those relationships are constantly beset with minor or major conflict. Whether they are simple differences in opinion or major discord on core beliefs, differences present a dual opportunity to those involved. Ignored or accentuated, they can only detract from communication and lead to further miscommunication. Discussed and understood, differences become an entry into understanding the motivations and values of others as well as our own.

My challenge for you this week is to learn to use the Speaker-Listener Technique (mostly learning to be the Listener, since it is a much more common ability to be able to speak our own minds) and then use it. That may involve teaching it to someone else. That way you have someone with whom to try it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Custom Search