What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.

by | Individual Development, Resources

listen-2It seems there was a doctor who received a call at 2:00 AM from an elderly patient named Hank. “Doc, I am worried about my wife. She has been up for hours with abdominal pain. I think it might be her appendix.” The Doc smiled at the self-diagnosis and assured Hank that it was probably just indigestion. He suggested the wife take some antacid. Within 45 minutes the phone rang again and again it was Hank. “Doc the antacid didn’t help. She is really hurting. I still think it is her appendix.” Doc smiled again and tried to reassure Hank, suggesting more antacid.

At 3:30 the phone rang for a third time. The Doc was now a little perturbed but Hank continued to insist the doctor consider the appendix. “Hank,” the Doc said, “I know you are not remembering things as well as you used to, but six years ago I took out your wife’s appendix. Now I have been practicing medicine for over 35 years. In all that time I have never met a person with a second appendix.” To which Hank replied, “Have you ever met a guy with a second wife?”

Warren Bennis said, “There is a profound difference between information and meaning.”

James C. Hunter notes that there are four ways that humans communicate with each other – reading, writing, speaking and listening. While the ratios may be changing with emails and texting, he offers that statistically the average person spends roughly 6% of their total communication time in writing, 9% reading, and 20% speaking. That means that the balance – 65% of the time – we are communicating by listening. Yet while our educational institutions invest heavily in teaching reading and writing skills, and may offer a speech class or two, they typically invest no time in teaching us to listen.

No wonder most of us have not effectively mastered the skill. Unfortunately, when in conversation with another person and ‘listening’ to them, we are often thinking instead of what we are going to say next, or simply waiting for our turn to tell our story. We tend to interrupt others in our impatience to get out what we want to say. Which gives the impression that it is more important than what the other person is saying.

Actively listening to others is a skill that can be learned. And maybe one that we should all commit to developing both in our business and personal lives.


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