• May 22nd, 2019
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Wanted: Good Listeners


One July afternoon in 1993, my cameraman, engineer and I joined a 250-car convoy travelling from Mogadishu to Baidoa. The group of vehicles was overwhelmingly American. I believe that the tactical formation of the motorcade was similarly American. The truck at the head of the convoy carried the luggage.

   I was in Somalia to produce a documentary on the Zimbabwe National Army’s participation in the United Nations Mission to Somalia (UNOSOM II). Baidoa is the provincial capital of the Bay region in southwestern Somalia. Along the way, the day became chilly. I could not, even in my wildest dreams, think of asking for my bag.

A Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) captain who was travelling with us came to my aid. He gave me a jacket (complete with a captain’s insignia) to wear. I was also wearing a pair of olive green chinos, a green t-shirt and Desert Storm shoes.
   When we arrived in Baidoa, I quickly grew tired of the salutes and the loud “good afternoon Sir” that I was receiving. The sheer formality and studied discipline of the encounters was wearing me down. Someone then helpfully indicated that my attire was communicating a message: I was a captain in the ZNA.

While I did not plan this scenario, it foregrounded, once again, the indisputable lesson that “a message gets to the recipient (a soldier, in this case) and is accepted and understood as intended (by the accidental captain!).” A creative mind has called it “listening with the eyes.” 

   Communication is not always verbal. Nonverbal communication, which includes gestures, eye contact, physical appearance and touching, conveys eloquent messages. What is important, however, is to ensure that the audience is clearly identified. Consequently, when the audience is known, it is possible to plan and execute the most effective messaging.

Workplaces are always a clear and present danger as far as communication is concerned. When it is done correctly, one can celebrate the fortunes of a winning team. Similarly, a single mistake may kill the team spirit and vision.

   “Positive peer relationships are one of the most valuable things you can cultivate in the work environment.” 
Meryl Runion writes that “the situation is made even more challenging by the fact that the workplace is more diverse than ever. There are a wide variety of cultures and personalities, and there is a new generation of workers entering the workforce. For this generation, respect is not given automatically: it needs to be earned. This generation is outspoken and can be difficult to manage…but not impossible.”

   Further, she cautions that “management skills are more important than ever. Unless you are a management communication natural, it is valuable to plan your words in advance.”

I have come across many instances which demand carefully crafted communication in order to turn around and salvage crisis situations. They include the need to stay positive, where words elevate, empower and indeed validate employees; or using decorous language, and thus avoiding vicious and divisive talk. It is equally important to practice candour, because nothing beats the truth even if it leads to uncomfortable and difficult conversations. 

   Finally, we need to pay close attention to the often-underplayed skill of listening. Roy Bennet says, “listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply.”
In his interpretation, leadership coach John Maxwell says: “Good leaders motivate others by their listening skills. We are to avoid prejudicial first impressions; become less self-centred; withhold initial criticism; stay calm; listen with empathy; clarify what we need to hear, and recognize the healing power of listening.”

   The Scriptures simply say: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…” To amplify this, Eckhart Tolle’s words are instructive. In A New Earth, he writes that “the normal state of mind of most human beings contains a strong element of what we might call dysfunction or even madness.”   

“Fear, greed, and the desire for power are the psychological motivating forces not only behind warfare and violence between nations, tribes, religions and ideologies, but also the cause of incessant conflict in personal relationships.” 
A friend argues that every word we say will either help in finding deeper relationships with others or divide us. Hollow words, the type that sound like automated language, have been and continue to be the ruin of many relationships. 
“Language is sensitive, the make-or-break skill, especially if we remember that the species who do most of the talking…twist language to distract and distort.”

Macquarie University makes the seemingly no-brainer statement, which on closer inspection gives the rudiments of successful communication: “Reminding a client that they are dealing with a human being helps break down a barrier.”
   All audiences or clients have specific needs. When we take time to decode the needs, and throw in a generous measure of emotional intelligence, it is possible to see, enjoy and spread successful communication. 


New Era Reporter
2019-02-22 09:28:55 2 months ago

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