What is your Goal when you Communicate with People?
What is your goal when you communicate with people? This question popped up when we were having a conversation about how sometimes we have a feeling that the other person doesn’t hear us. May it happen while discussing an important document or deciding when to go to lunch. What is it that you want from communication? Do you want to be right? Or do you want to fight? Would you like to come to some kind of a conclusion? Or to understand what the other person thinks? We reflected on these questions and concluded that listening is an essential part of communication. Do you want to find out why? Read further.
Being able to communicate effectively is perhaps the most important of all life skills. We pass information to other people, and understand what they say to us. We have noticed that when speaking about communication skills, the focus is often on the first part – passing information, be it public speaking or written communication. We believe that understanding what we are being told is equally important and this depends on our listening skills. Why is it important to improve one’s listening skills and be able to transmit as well as receive information effectively? We will demonstrate it by explaining the difference between debate, discussion and dialogue.
This is how it looks when we practice listening. CEF online webinar on listening skills exercise.
DEBATE: When you're in the debate mode of communication, the goal is really to be right. In this situation, there's always a winner and a loser, and it is not a great way to connect across difference. In a way, it resembles a monolog where the focus is extended speech by one person who is delivering their “speech” to the “audience.”
DISCUSSION: One of the goals of discussion is to try to come to some kind of a conclusion or decision about something. Discussions and everyday conversation assume shared world views, mindsets, and a set of common beliefs.
DIALOGUE: Dialogue assumes that people come from different perspectives or backgrounds, and it is effective in creating understanding across that divide. Dialogue involves trust, it is collaborative, and recognizes that people may approach and think about an issue in ways that are different from yours. Dialogue acknowledges that these different viewpoints may all have value. Dialogue is not about seeking a closure – it is about discovering new options.
Each of the above can have its purpose, depending on the circumstances, but if we pursue inclusive policy-making processes, then we should lean on the characteristics of dialogue, where listening skills play an important role. As listening goes hand in hand with respect, insight and knowledge, we are listing some techniques that facilitate these aspects.
5 ways to build a dialogue:
1) Assume positive intent
Consciously choose to believe that people have good intentions, and act and speak to the best of their ability. By assuming positive intent, we put our own judgments, viewpoints and biases aside. We focus on what the person (speaker) actually means, rather than what we think we hear or see. We also recognize that we do not always fully understand the situation or what another person is experiencing. When you listen, the attention should be on the speaker.
2) Ask clarifying questions
Check your understanding now and then by paraphrasing what the other person said, for example, "You are saying…" or “Is that correct?” When you say, “I think I heard you say…” or “It sounds to me that…” – the attention is on you. However, the attention should be on the speaker. Don't be deterred if you are still unclear. Use additional questions to reach an understanding, such as "Could you elaborate on that further?" or "This is a new approach for me. Could you please be more specific?" Ask and you will understand the other person better.
3) Listen humbly
Put your own ego, assumptions and viewpoints aside. Consider and learn from someone else's experiences as you listen. Use verbal and non-verbal cues to show that you are actively listening. These may include phrases, like "Go on," or gestures, such as simply nodding (do not overdo it).
4) Use pauses intentionally
Take a moment to pause and listen with intention to what is being said, and resist the urge to respond immediately. The speaker might add something important.
5) Find common ground
When possible, try to find common ground, such as a shared value, viewpoint, or idea. If you can't, at least you can set the tone for civility, and respectfully agree to disagree. For example, "I appreciate your perspective on this, even though I don't hold the same view."
Remember, we can hear a lot, but it is up to us what and how to listen. Communication is a two-way street and you can only control yourself.
Listening exercises and development of soft skills
At the CEF, we recently started incorporating into our learning initiatives exercises on listening habits (exercise: Discover what type of listener are you?) and genuine listening (exercise: Learn how to listen more effectively) to improve our listening skills. This is also expected to increase emotional intelligence, a term often used in professional environments. Emotional intelligence is important an underlying component of soft skills that are in high demand when we are confronted, for instance, with the challenge of implementing policy reforms. We pay special attention to that in our learning activities in the area of leadership for managing reforms. Developing emotional intelligence is challenging, as unlike hard skills, this quality is somewhat difficult to define and harder to cultivate. Emotional intelligence has five main elements: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills, all of them playing an important part in effective communication. What has so far proven to support building emotional intelligence and soft skills is the ability to listen.
It seems that dialogue is the “natural side effect” of active listening, which has many benefits. We borrowed the following quote to illustrate this and to conclude: «Any event that convenes a conversation – whether it’s a strategic planning session, a community engagement process, a workshop, or a dialogue between stakeholders – is only as successful as the quality of the listening taking place.» (Avril Orloff).
- Lynn, Adelle B. 2000. 50 Activities for Developing Emotional Intelligence.
- Mind Tools Content Team. 2020. Emotional Intelligence in Leadership. Available online (October 12, 2020)
- Skills You Need. 2020. Communication skills. Available online (October 12, 2020)