Is anybody listening?

Personal note

During the past two weeks I have been involved with setting up not one but several projects, each of them involving a small group of people. Communications between us have flown back and forth; revisions have had to be made, misunderstandings corrected, and I have been left sometimes with the feeling of one who is herding cats.

It is a reminder of how fragile communication is, and how important it is to strive to be absolutely clear in order to save stress and time.  But what do we mean by “clear communication?”  That’s the essence of today’s article, a small peek into a topic I call “People Literacy” : learning to read different kinds of behavioral styles in order to operate more effectively in personal and professional life.

Is anybody listening?

One common stressor is the feeling that we are trying to get others to understand our needs and our points of view, but somehow, no matter how hard we try, the message isn’t getting through.

The solution to this stress? Try to understand the needs of your listener; then shape your communication to meet those needs.

In an old sitcom, Archie Bunker stated: “Edith, do you know why we can’t communicate? Because I’m talking in English, and you’re listening in DINGBAT!”

Archie Bunker had a point: a major frustration in life is the realization that we are not being heard. His explanation was also typical: it must be your fault if you don’t understand me.

A good rule to remember is that everyone is tuned into Station WII:FM: What’s in it for me? Each of us filters information beamed towards us in terms the kinds of information we want and need, and the possible threat that may be posed for us. The ability to analyze the communication styles of others allows you to plan your communications so that they will be received and understood.

Here is a brief rundown on four different normal types of people, and what they need to hear in order to pay attention to a communication.

The DOMINANT, take-charge type, likes challenges and speedy movement towards a well-defined goal. Dominant types are better speakers than listeners. Such people give new meaning to the terms “brief” and “concise.”

A phone call from a Dominant is likely to consist of a quick message: “I can’t meet you at I p.m. It’ll have to be at 1:45.” And belatedly, “This is Don. How are you?” The speaker may then hang up without waiting for an answer.

A communication to a dominant person should move quickly to the bottom line: what is the proposed plan, what is his or her involvement? Avoid at all costs the following: a long introduction to the topic (trigger impatience and lack of attention in this listener), entertaining anecdotes (arouse suspicion – “Why are you trying to con me”), and detailed presentations of data on the pros and cons (“You should have thought this out on your own time and come to me with a brief, clear proposal”).

ENTHUSIASTIC OPTIMISTS are animated, optimistic, and very sociable people. Charming and entertaining others is a major goal of this very likable type. They make charismatic leaders, teachers, preachers, and super salespeople.

Major threats to this type include the possibility of personal rejection, or a negative reaction to one of their proposals. The result?  Enthusiastic Optimists, when squelched, have an out-of-body experience. In their imaginations, they travel to another, pleasanter planet where your voice is not being heard.

When your Enthusiastically Optimistic listener’s eyes glaze over, it is a distinct possibility you are not being heard.

Take time, if possible, to listen, socialize and empathize with the feelings of the Enthusiastic Optimist.  You will save time in the long run. Present negative information as if it is one of an array of possibilities.

HARMONIOUS TEAMWORKERS are even-tempered, loyal friends and co-workers. In their conversations, they often use the word “we” where others might use “I”:  ‘We went to a movie last night,” “‘We didn’t like that restaurant.”

People who reflect this style tend to speak in pleasant, well-modulated voices, and expect others to do the same. They are made very uncomfortable by forceful tones and language, as used by the Dominant types, or the rising and falling inflections and volume of the Enthusiastic Optimist, interpreting such vocal changes as being threatening.

Harmonious Teamworkers tend to avoidanything unpleasant, and will consequently avoid listening to overly forceful communication.

CAREFUL INDEPENDENTS are detail-oriented, conscientious types who prefer to work alone, and indeed need a certain amount of solitude in order to be comfortable.

Communications beamed towards Careful Independents should be worded cautiously, with respect for detail. Avoid emotion-laden phrases and attempts at persuasion; simply present the facts to which you wish them to pay attention.

Don’t necessarily expect an immediate reply or reaction to your communication. Listeners might be compared to cameras: some zoom in on a specific topic, while others use a wide-angle lens to take in many details simultaneously. The Dominants and Enthusiastic Optimists zoom in on topics which are important to them, react quickly and make decisions accordingly. Harmonious Teamworkers and Careful Independents survey the entire situation, often contemplating several points of view simultaneously.  This type of information processing demands time for reflection before reaction. Pressing them for a response too quickly will result in irritation and resistance to any suggestion being presented by the speaker.

Of course, communication style can vary by situation; people often don’t use the same style at home and at work, for example, and level of stress can play a factor also. Plus, don’t forget that there is a strong relationship between power, communication, income level, and status in the community. However, studying these four listening styles will greatly enhance the power of your communications, and increase the possibility of actually being heard!

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