Become a Better Listener: Part 1

October 15, 2008


Greetings, in my last post, I described the 4 barriers to effective listening.  These include the following:

1.  A natural tendency to want to speak first and focus on our own agenda.

2.  Negative perceptions regarding the speaker and/or topic.

3.  Our ability to think much faster than someone can speak.

4.  Emotional, external, internal and cultural noise.

Fortunately listening is not as difficult as we sometimes make it out to be.  The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are two aspects of effective listening.  The first, and most obvious, is that listening involves understanding the message being sent by your communication partner in the way that they intend.  The second, and frequently neglected aspect, is that effective listening involves the articulation of your understanding to your communication partner.  In other words, you demonstrate to that person that you clearly understand his or her message.  There are six steps that you can take to improve your listening in both areas.  Here is the first, and arguably most important step:

Use active listening on a regular basis.  Active listening consists of the listener’s attempt to give back (or reflect) what has been stated by the speaker.  If you are going to effectively reflect the feelings and content of the speaker’s message, then you really have to pay attention.  You can apply active listening by using a one sentence reflective statement that paraphrases what the speaker has said.  A good reflective statement includes two parts: an affective element and a content element.  The affective element identifies the feelings of your communication partner.  The content element describes why the person feels this way.  For example, if you are talking with a colleague who is upset because of a significant policy change at work you might say, “It sounds like you are really frustrated because the new policy is going to make it harder to do your job.”  Make it easier to use a reflective statement by applying a sentence prefix such as, “What I hear you saying is…” or “Sounds like you…”

NEXT POST – October 20, 2008

Become a Better Listener: Part 2

The 4 Barriers to Effective Listening

October 10, 2008


Listening is one of the most prominent activities in our daily lives.  In fact, with the exception of breathing, there is nothing we do more frequently than listen.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t listen as well as we could.  Research indicates that the average person forgets 50% of what they hear within seconds of a conversation.  Within two days, we lose 75% and a week after a conversation, we have lost over 90% of what was discussed.  This occurs because of the four barriers to effective listening that we encounter on a regular basis:

1.  A natural tendency to want to speak first and focus on our own agenda.  This gets in the way of our ability to really hear and understand the other person.  

2.  Negative perceptions regarding the speaker and/or topic.  If you lack enthusiasm for either your communication partner or the subject matter, your ability to listen can be severely limited.

3.  Our ability to think much faster than someone can speak.  Each of us has the ability to process words 4-5 times faster than a person can speak them.  This can lead to impatience on part of the listener if their communication partner is not making his or her points quickly enough.

4.  Emotional, external, internal and cultural noise.  Noise is anything that interferes with the accurate transmission of information between a speaker and listener.  Emotional noise consists of words that arouse strong emotions in us and thereby limit our communication effectiveness.  External noise involves distractions that take place around us and take our attention away from the speaker.  Internal noise consists of distractions taking place within us, such as having our mind on something else or being in a rush, which take our attention away from the speaker.  Finally, cultural noise involves distractions caused by the cultural differences between two people.  For example, communication between two individuals whose primary languages are different creates problems and makes it more difficult to accurately transmit messages between the communication partners.

NEXT POST – October 15, 2008:

Become a Better Listener: Part 1

Culturally Competent Communication: Part 3

October 6, 2008


Greetings, in my last two posts, I described 5 things you should do if you want to communicate more effectively with people who are culturally different.   Here are my last 2 DO’S:

1.  DO step outside of your comfort zone.  The best way to increase your cultural knowledge and skills is to experience the things that culturally different people experience on a regular basis.  This can help you to better understand the values, beliefs and behaviors of people who are culturally different.  Go to diverse places of worship, visit different cultural events, go to various social activities, visit different ethnic restaurants, talk to different people at work, or do anything else that puts you in direct proximity with people you don’t normally interact with.  The most important aspect of this process is to step outside of your comfort zone.  For example, if you are a member of a “majority” group, put yourself in the position of being a “minority”.  This will give you a better understanding of why culturally different people might think or act in certain ways.

2.  DO speak inclusively.  Inclusive language acknowledges different people and creates more positive environments where people feel included.  To communicate inclusively, use terms that will be understood and respected by people of different backgrounds, refer to people by the names they wish to be called (e.g., physically challenged instead of handicapped), and eliminate language that suggests men are the standard for all human beings (e.g., use both masculine and feminine pronouns).

NEXT POST – October 10, 2008

Culturally Competent Communication: Part 2

October 1, 2008


In my last post, I described 2 things you should do if you want to enhance communication in diverse settings.   Here are 3 more DO’S:

DO suspend your judgment.  It is very natural to evaluate others.  We do it all the time.  However, judging others can create many communication problems so always try to be non-judgmental, even when you disagree with the person, or in situations where your values are different.  One way to do this is to say to yourself, “There is always value in difference, even when I have to look hard to find it!”

DO seek common ground between yourself and others.  This is especially important during multicultural interactions.  Always remember that no matter what the cultural differences are, you will always have more similarities with your colleagues than differences.  Focus on identifying these similarities and using them as a means to better understand your differences.

DO acknowledge the impact of stereotyping.  Stereotypes (the generalizations we make about members of a particular group) negatively impact our interactions and cause us to act in unintentionally biased ways.  Therefore, be aware of your stereotypes, and actively work to reduce their impact.

NEXT POST – October 6, 2008:

Culturally Competent Communication: Part 3

Culturally Competent Communication: Part 1

September 26, 2008


In previous posts, I introduced the Do’s and Don’ts of Multicultural Communication.  I offered tips, ideas and suggestions for improving your ability to communicate across cultural differences, and to reduce the possibility of offending others.  My previous tips focused on the Don’ts – the behaviors you want to avoid at all costs.  In my next few posts, I will describe 7 things you want to Do to improve multicultural communication.  Here are the first 2: 

1.  DO demonstrate empathy in all of your interactions.  Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand another person’s feelings, situation, ideas, values and desires.  There are many ways to demonstrate empathy, but the best way is to listen first (our natural tendency is to speak first so you may have to work at this), to try and understand where your colleagues and co-workers are coming from (really try to understand their point of view), and to demonstrate your understanding on a consistent basis.  You can effectively demonstrate your understanding by using active listening.  Do this by paraphrasing what you hear your communication partner say to confirm you have received the message in the way it is intended.

2.  DO be accepting of cultural differences.  Always remember that acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean agreement.  You can be totally accepting of a person while still disagreeing with their ideas or certain beliefs they hold.  Acceptance refers to a willingness to support and validate your colleagues, to have positive regard for them, and to remain non-judgmental even in circumstances where you do not agree.

NEXT POST – October 1, 2008:

Culturally Competent Communication – Part 2

How to Avoid Offending Others: Part 3

September 22, 2008


Greetings, in my last two posts, I introduced the Do’s and Don’ts of Multicultural Communication and described 5 things you should never do if you want to communicate effectively with people who are culturally different.   Here are the last 2 DON’TS:

1.  DON’T ask inappropriate questions or engage in inappropriate behaviors, especially of a personal nature.  In a culturally diverse setting, it is best to stick to business at the beginning of a work relationship.  This means you must take care not to ask improper questions or engage in inappropriate conversations.  For example, don’t ask about another person’s grooming habits.  Don’t ask others about their child rearing practices.  Don’t ask if you can touch a co-worker’s hair (yes, I have heard questions like these on multiple occasions).  These types of questions can create tension and make people feel uncomfortable.  In addition, some people may find these types of discussions to be unsuitable for the workplace.  Once you have established a strong working relationship or friendship with someone, you may be able to have discussions of this nature.  But until that happens, it is best to avoid these types of personal conversations.

2.  DON’T try to speak or act like a culturally different person if it is not YOU.  Never try to behave the way you think someone else expects you to behave.  Never act in an unnatural way because you think it is what another person wants from you.  For example, don’t pretend you like certain foods, music or activities just to build a relationship with a culturally different individual.  Always be yourself.  This is the essence of genuineness, which is a key condition of effective cross-cultural communication.

NEXT POST – September 26, 2008:

Culturally Competent Communication – Part 1

How to Avoid Offending Others: Part 2

September 16, 2008


In my last post, I introduced the Do’s and Don’ts of Multicultural Communication, and described 3 things you should never do if you want to enhance communication in diverse settings and avoid offending others.   Here are 2 more DON’TS:

1.  DON’T assume a culturally different person is typical of all of the members of his or her cultural group.  A common by-product of stereotyping (making generalizations or assumptions about the members of a particular group) is the tendency to think that the behavior of one group member is typical of all group members and to only see in those group members what we expect to see.  We often do this unconsciously and it has the potential to create many communication problems.  Therefore, always strive to treat people as individuals and to get to know your colleagues on an individual basis.

2.  DON’T engage in behaviors that single out a culturally different person, especially if that person is in the minority at your workplace.  This may seem obvious, but we often do this without realizing it.  For  instance, I have observed many situations where people who are cultural minorities within the workplace are asked to serve on a team or committee because of their race, gender or age.  While it may be a great honor to be asked to serve, and it is certainly beneficial to have a diverse set of perspectives on any team, always be aware of the difficult position you can place someone in if you single them out.

NEXT POST – September 22, 2008:

How to Avoid Offending Others: Part 3