Different, But the Same (Sorta): Hearing, Listening and Communicating


ken donaldson on communication and listening

Everyone wants to talk and nobody is listening…

I’ve had the opportunity and privilege  to work with numerous individuals, families and businesses over the years, each of whom contacted me for essentially the same reason.

None of them knew they were calling because they had similar challenges, but when it was all distilled down to the core, they were.

And I say this not to discount the magnitude of strife, stress and frustration they had been experiencing, but rather to point out that we all seem to be struggling with some of the same core challenges.

We just really don’t know how to effectively talk to and with each other.

Yes, communication 101.

This seems so elementary, I’m almost embarrassed to write it, as my inner critic is screaming that the readers will roll their eyes as they mumble, “No kidding…I knew that.”

And yes, most people do have some awareness of this sticky dynamic that draws them in, over and over again, like moths into the cliché-ish fire of repetitious emotional destruction.

So, how can something be so obvious, and simple, but yet at the same time, so destructive?

It comes back to some of the core elements of our chronic and terminal humanness.

1.) We suffer from the Great Forgetting, which means that we revert back to careless, ineffective and often destructive behaviors.

2.) We have excessive BS (Blind Spots) that we can’t see and we forget that we have them (see #1).

3.) We will automatically turn to what is familiar, predictable and comfortable, even if it’s counter-productive and interpersonally damaging.

Yes…we are creatures of habit, and even though we are completely wired for change, transformation and growth, we resist it in the face of unexpected and emotionally-charged stress.

So, in those moments of emotion, stress and the uncertainty, we often, and probably usually, revert back to caveman instincts: If it has even the least hint of unknown, then it must be a saber-tooth tiger and you should initiate full defensive protection and offensive attack modes.

Bottomline: We react with emotion and all our wonderful logic, personal growth and Zen-like awareness goes out the window.

Solution: Effective affective listening.

And here’s a formula for you to consider.

First, accept that you’re going to feel emotions and want to react to other people. All that means is that you’re human and you’re alive, both of which are good things.

This first step is the “affective” part. Once you mange the affective, you’re ready to then be “effective.”

Second, be willing to humble yourself and keep your opinions, observations and knowledge to yourself. This is THE worst time to show others that you’re right (even if you are). Or brilliant (even if you are). Or knowledgeable and/or experienced about the topic or situation at hand (even if you are).

Third, go into what may very well be the most challenging of interpersonal positions: Listen to understand and don’t cease listening until you understand completely. This may sound simple enough, but most people are interrupted by frustration. Then, impatience and the all-mighty ego want to point out how the person is “wrong.”

Fourth, even though you’re the listener, this doesn’t mean that you’re silent. It means the conversation is completely pointed towards the other person. The goal is to make sure you understand and can validate the other’s viewpoints and perspectives. It does NOT mean that you agree with them. This is where many people get tripped up.

Lastly, be willing to offer statements of understanding through empathetic reflections and responses. Let them know how and why you understand their experiences, even if they are completely opposite how you’d think, act or feel.

More than anything else, people want to be listened to, understood, emotionally validated and empathized with. When you do this, you’ve created the foundation of effective, and affective, communication, and a healthy foundation for a harmonious relationship.

Simple and not always easy, but simple nonetheless.

Practice the simpleness of this over and over and over, until it becomes natural, automatic and habitual.

Yes, create some new habits for yourself.



Listen, live, love and learn today: Marry YourSelf First!




About Ken Donaldson

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