“One of my most memorable vacations was a trip my wife and I took to Scotland,” I said after putting some deep thought into a question that was presented to me recently about favorite trips.
“That’s great, but you should have gone to Ireland instead,” my new friend said to me as he processed what I was saying.
I was temporarily taken aback that he showed little interest in what I was saying at first, but chalked it up to the fact that this was our first ever conversation and perhaps he is just one of those people who likes to express their opinion while they are ‘in the moment’. I persisted.
“As a Polynesian you envision your vacations to be in some exotic, island locale surrounded by pristine beaches, but I really found Europe to be exciting, given my predilection for history.”
“Yeah, but Scotland? I think Ireland would have been a better place to visit.”
I laughed. Is this guy clueless or is he just trying to infuriate me?
“Well maybe one day I’ll visit Ireland, but Scotland was great…”
“Yeah but I just can’t imagine that Scotland could possibly be better than Ireland…”
“Have you been to Ireland?”
“No, but anyone would have chosen Ireland over Scotland.”
I smiled, feeling a bit awkward. He chuckled, probably because of the confused look on my face, then he laughed a full belly laugh and I knew right then that I had been ambushed and I finally understood that this was the aim of the game: To feel utter frustration at the break in communication between us and sometimes, listening is more important than getting your message across.
Have you ever spoken to someone who tries to finish your sentences, shows little interest in your opinion or completely ignores you when you’re trying to say something? Have you ever been in a situation where someone asks you a question and then proceeds to answer the question before you even have an opportunity to respond?
I think I’ve said more than once that I was a shy kid growing up so it wasn’t odd that when people asked me questions it was merely to make feel like I was being included in a conversation. No one fully expected me to actually respond to any of their questions. Unlike most people, however, I like to take a breath, let the question marinate in my head for a bit, formulate my answer and then say what I’m thinking. I’m not a big fan of blurting things out for the sake of saying something.
Those days, as a teenager, were frustrating days because I felt like my opinion really didn’t matter. As the years wore on I found that I wanted people to hear my opinion, I wanted people to know how I felt about certain issues. Everyone wants to be heard, right? On the other hand, we don’t always have to say what we’re thinking. Dilemma!
Over the past two weeks, my friend Super Scouter taught me and my colleagues some very valuable and important lessons about communication. In my professional life I’ve been a corporate trainer, a project manager and a business analyst. I’ve been an LDS missionary, a volunteer sports and life coach and a mentor to young people. But even with that professional and personal resume, there are still a lot of things to be learned about effectively communicating ones thoughts and the art of actively listening to another person’s point of view.
Communication often changes. Gone are the days when people admired those who spoke with proper diction, commanded a large vocabulary to articulate and express thought. Now all you need is a Twitter account, a vast knowledge of acronyms and text-speak and a pair of nimble thumbs to navigate a QWERTY keyboard and you can say volumes in as few characters as possible.
In ancient and post-colonial Samoa a High Chief’s most valuable asset was an orator or Talking Chief who could enthrall and sway an audience with his words. Today your most valuable asset in the professional and personal world is the ability to assess a situation, listen to the participants in a conversation and address the situation only after you have as much information about the circumstance as possible. It works whether you are in a conversation with children or with adults.
We do all want to be heard and sometimes your role is just to be a silent participant, not the guy with all the answers. I’ve resolved several conflicts with young people who have asked for my advice simply by sitting down and listening to them vent. So many times they already know the answer, they just have to talk through it before they realize that they knew it all along and just needed someone to validate their feelings.
I’ve also told you before that I’m not a therapist and my counsel isn’t always the best but if I can ever give you advice about communication I would give you the wise counsel of Greek philosopher Epictetus who said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
By the way, I think Ireland would be nice to visit some day.