Listening involves three processes: receiving a message, processing a message and sending a message. Each message is a stimulus to be received and processed by the hearer. Reception of a message is a covert process; we cannot see how or what the hearer heard. Processing is also covert. It goes on the hearer’s mind (except for nonverbal cues) Processing a message includes thinking about what was heard and pondering its meaning. Errors in processing a message correctly often occur when our biases, preconceived ideas, judgments and so forth prevent us from acknowledging parts of a message or from interpreting the message without distortion. In other words, we hear bits and pieces that we form together in our minds that we compose into a message instead of the actual message.
I messages are messages where the speaker expresses his/her thoughts and feelings assertively by articulating: 1) the feeling or thought, 2) what behavior or action or words of the other precipitated the experience, and 3) the effect it had on the person.
For example: I felt hurt (feeling) when you did not introduce me to your boss (other’s behavior) because it made me think you were ashamed of me (effect).
You messages are messages where the speaker expresses his/her thought and feelings by ignoring his/her experience, blaming, judging, or belittling the other person for his/her experience and he/she accepts no responsibility or control for interpreting behavior and actions in certain ways.
For example: What kind of game are you playing? You deliberately ignored me when your boss came over (blaming). Well to tell you the truth I don’t care (ignoring experience) and you are a bigger idiot than I thought if you think I do (belittling).
There are 8 basic skills in making sure your ideas and feelings are effectively communicated.
1. Clearly “own" your own message by using personal pronouns such as “I" and “my. "
2. Make your messages complete and specific.
3. Express genuine care and concern in your messages.
4. Ask open ended questions.
5. Ask for feedback concerning the way your messages are being received.
6. Make the message appropriate to the receiver and frame of reference.
7. Describe your feelings, by name or action.
8. Describe other's behavior without evaluating or interpreting.
1. Messages that evaluate or judge.
2. Messages that try to control.
3. Messages that have numerous and/or conflicting motives: no one likes to be the victim of some hidden motivation and most people dislike deceit.
4. Messages that appear to lack concern for the other's welfare.
5. Messages that threaten or warn.
6. Messages that suggest you feel superior in some way.
7. Messages that insult, blame, shame.
It is indeed challenging to recognize your own listening and communications pattern. But you have probably recognized the patterns of others. Did he or she pick up your entire message? Did you feel understood? What interpretations did they make?
As you work to fine-tune your listening, you will discover your relationship with your family, friends and others becoming more and more satisfying.
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D. D. , is an ordained clergywoman, social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. http://www.clergyservices4u.org. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, will be available soon.