Sunday, November 5, 2017

Becoming a Better Listener...

Below is an assignment for a class on interpersonal communication. It has been my goal to become a better listener, and understand more about self-esteem, self-disclosure and self-awareness. If these thoughts can help you, then share away and thanks for reading.

I'm learning a lot about myself. Maybe you can learn something about you.

- Pastor K


In preparing to formulate a plan of action for improving interpersonal communication for this assignment, the most striking comment was found in the Powerpoint presentation (Beebe, Beebe and Redmond) under "listening styles."
My listening style is a content-oriented listener, which is described as "comfortable listening to complex, detailed information than are people with other listening styles. A content-oriented listener hones in on the facts, details and evidence in a message."
The word "complex" identifies my entire communication spectrum. I am a pastor and announcer, so good verbal communication is a must, although one is delivering expository content, and the other is simplicity and statistics. I am a writer and statistician, so at times the word usage to communicate is broad and long, and other times it's found in numbers and facts. I am a counselor, and this is a complicated balance of listening well and offering advice and solutions. Then I am a missionary, and language barriers bring massive complexity to even the simplest of messages.
In all forms, learning to be a better listener remains the focus, as the large percentage of interpersonal communication in my life can be instructional and one-sided. Doing so creates a "sender and receiver approach" (Skills You Need), but this is a one-way process when complex communication has to involve multiple processes for success. Communication is not always a one side or the other, but a merge of multiple channels and recipients.
I discern well, but listen too quickly. My standard response is too prompt and leads to poor self-disclosure habits. In the rush to provide a one-way instructional channel in my communication practices, and following Powell's model, I tend to operate in level three of disclosure which is "attitudes and personal ideas" (p. 60). In sharing my thoughts, I tend to believe my attitudes and ideas can influence others and provide the help they need. I don't intend to make it too personal (level two), but I often do, and this involves a great risk of self-disclosure. I give away too much information in hopes of helping others, and often my past experiences may not need to be shared, nor are they always welcomed.
Therefore, in analyzing my communication styles and interpersonal flaws in processing and sharing information, I am proposing the following plan for improving my interpersonal communication skills and relationships.
1. Focus intently on every moment of communication
I was diagnosed many years ago with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and I have learned through discipline to manage it. However, speaking and controlling the environment is an easy way to manage the threat of losing focus. As we learned from Carl Rogers, "hearing deeply" is the proper way to listen and discern others. For me, this requires a process of focusing intently on every person I am attempting to speak to, or hear from.
I will accomplish this four primary ways: solid eye contact, allowing the other person to always finish sentences, speaking when the opportunity is right, and provide proper closure to the conversation.
Many of these elements are covered in 7 Steps to Effective Interpersonal Communication by Lei Han, the most important of which is number two, "keep the other person in mind."
2. Remove distractions
The biggest barrier to effective interpersonal communication on a personal level for me is the distracted elements that can alter a conversation. Becoming more focus and listening intently means "a complex process of selecting, attending to, constructing meaning from, remembering and responding to verbal and nonverbal messages" (Beebe, Beebe and Redmond, p. 1). If your eyes and ears are focused on verbal and nonverbal cues, then distractions must be removed. 
  • Focus on one person at a time. 
  • Complete conversations, don't jump without closure. 
  • End all electronic messaging before a face-to-face meeting. 
  • Put phones on vibrate, turn off computer, close doors. 
  • Limit outside interruptions. 
  • Set time limits. 
This also includes shutting off the "noise" (Skills You Need). Noise is not just tangible distraction like phones and people. Noise involves self-perception of the environment and how you communicate. This noise includes "the use of complicated jargoninappropriate body languageinattention, disinterest, and cultural differences can be considered 'noise' in the context of interpersonal communication."
3. Listen more than you speak
I have a goal to flip the percentage of talking versus listening. This is number six on Han's list to "listen as much as you speak." I want to listen more than I speak.
Doing so means having a greater self-awareness of how my stories and advice can help another person. Eliminate unnecessary artifacts from the story. Stay on track. Slow down, but less words in speaking will mean better effectiveness. Finally, a reminder to always let the other person finish.
4. Trust my purpose and be confident
I am confident to speak in front of others, but I have learned that my love language is affirmation through the assessment by Gary Chapman (The Five Love Languages Often, what I perceive to be words spoken to help others are really an attempt to validate my own story and be heard. This confuses and complicates the message, and may leave the listener feeling I have spoken to me.
The damage, however, comes long after the communication is over when I am communicating and analyzing my own effectiveness. I become too critically self-aware, and need to learn to slow down, listen, speak in complete and direct advice and then leave the conversation trusting that my voice was both welcome and needed and that I shared exactly what I should have to help the situation.
This will lead to a more positive self-awareness of how I communicate and teach me to trust myself as much as others have given their time and trust to me.

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