Speaking and Listening - Know Your Responsibilities

With tempers running short due to current societal conditions including the pandemic, reduced hours and pay, and long-term remote working, poor communication is inevitable.  When one person gets frustrated, emotions can take over.  Emotions trump brainpower every time.  That’s when it’s time to defuse and walk it back, or maybe even reschedule. 

Keeping communication congenial helps brains work better.  Many communication problems can be eliminated with a few ground rules. Here are lists of responsibilities for each party that will help keep communication problems from occurring and remedy them when they do. 

Responsibilities of the Listener 

  • Create an interruption-free space.  
  • Shut down electronic distractions.  
  • Don’t try to multitask.  (More and more studies show that multitasking does not work anyway!)  Give the speaker your full attention.  
  • Create a few minutes ahead of time to calm yourself through deep breathing or meditation if you are having trouble focusing.  
  • Ask questions immediately if you don’t understand something. 
  • Relay the information back in your own words to check comprehension. 

Responsibilities of the Speaker 

  • Relay information calmly.  
  • Create an atmosphere in which the listener can interrupt you if needed without offending you.  (When people are creating connections in their brain, they may need certain information at a certain time.  Communicators may unintentionally skip over necessary data because it is something understood so well by them, but not necessarily by the listener.)  
  • Take responsibility for making yourself understood.  
  • Add a visual aid. The majority of people are primarily visual learners.
  • Try to figure out what concept or data the listener is missing. It's not their job to understand how your brain works; it’s your responsibility to be clear and to uncover how your communication is lacking. 

When I was a young teacher, a piece of advice I received proved to be critical in my own leadership journey.  That was to take responsibility for what’s not working instead of blaming others.  If you are constantly frustrated that others don’t understand you, you may have a communication problem, not them.

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