What was that?

What was that?

What is free and can make life easier and rewarding? What is something almost everyone can perform but few perform well? We all need to talk and we all need to listen; few of us do both well and most perform just one task with any success. The answer to the first two questions is also the topic of this week’s column, communication.

Most people prefer giving to receiving so let’s discuss talking first. I speak fairly loud because it is a courtesy to the listener. I also try to tell any story quickly without a lot of theatrical pauses or other self indulgences. Everyone thinks they are Garrison Keillor when they tell a story but few do it well. It’s best to deliver the outline of an interesting story and then wait for questions; then it becomes a conversation. If you force a listener to endure every tiny detail and nuance, it’s no longer a conversation but rather an unrehearsed speech.

There is a time to whisper; quiet times on the couch, bed time for the kids or perhaps while hiding in a closet from a crazed killer. Typically, a whisper is only a hindrance to communication. When I answer a phone I speak clearly and fairly loud, I do this out of courtesy to the listener. I have had phone conversations with “quiet-talkers” where my bicep begins to hurt from pushing the handset into my ear. Those who find it necessary for quiet phone conversations should get a few pointers from my mother in-law or my sister as they both speak loud enough so that every call seems to be on speaker phone. It makes phone conversations much more pleasant.

I dislike the following; mumbling, the word “ah” and sticky words. I think mumbling is a learned behavior. The word “ah” is an attempt to delay the listener until the speaker has a new thought. “Sticky words” are spoken by folks who connect every word in a sentence into one incoherent blob like John Cleese did on “the Monty Python Show.” I usually give mumblers a pass and owe it to a traumatic childhood, however sticky words can be eliminated by focusing on your breath and slowing down. To eliminate the word “ah” from your conversation, have a friend count how many times you use it in a sentence. The total number will inspire you to simply pause in your conversation until the next thought appears.

Finally, let’s talk about listening. The famous phrase is, “do you really listen or just wait to talk.” I would say most good listeners are created by good speakers. I would go so far to say that most people who seek good listeners are like boxers looking for a good punching bag. I am guilty of listening to stories that were good but so lengthy that I ended up thinking about our cats or caulking the bathroom instead of the conversation. My old, stuffed Winnie the Pooh doll is a good listener. The truth is, I listen out of respect more than interest , however it can be a test at times.

I hope I didn’t lose your attention today as that would be ironic and sad for me. I hope my hints work if you try them and make you a better communicator. I am not going to worry about poor listeners because they quit by paragraph two and, by now, are probably whispering to a good listener on the phone.

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