I had a conversation recently that left me feeling like this person and I were speaking two entirely different languages even though I could swear we both spoke English.
Have you ever felt that you were misunderstood or not heard? – like the person you were talking with was forming what they were going to say before you even finished your thought? In other words, they weren’t hearing you in the first place. They were listening for words to respond to, rather than a person to connect with. In truth, you’ve probably felt yourself sometimes doing that same thing when someone else was talking. The language we have been taught tends to create that disconnect.
Does that happen because they or you don’t care about others? Of course not, we are social animals and community is essential to our well being. Notice that communication and community are similar words derived from the Latin communicat – ‘shared’ – more specifically in my language, the only thing that really can be shared which is, shared experience.
If communication is about sharing then why do so many people often feel that they are not heard? We certainly have more than enough gizmos and gadgets for texting, emailing, messaging, phoning, Skyping – not to mention general talking back and forth through networking, business meetings, family meetings, social get-togethers, pillow talk, etc., etc.
My answer for starters is that we have a dysfunctional language. It is a language whose intention has shifted from sharing to controlling – from experience to concepts. We focus more and more on trading thoughts and less and less on sharing experiences. All of the communication gadgets in the world won’t help if the underlying language doesn’t work well.
The difference between the two intentions is that sharing is empowering while controlling is disempowering and tends to create division. If you ever feel disempowered, it very likely starts as an issue of language, either self-talk or what someone else is saying. The disempowering language being used focus’s on concepts and so I listen only for your words.
It can really be empowering for both you and the person you are talking with to make a conscious effort to hear completely what someone has to say before you even begin to formulate your response. What you are listening for is the experience beneath the words. That’s sharing – it tends to support community and it is the original purpose of communication.
Even if you disagree with what someone is saying, they will more likely feel heard, and that by itself can empower community. Consider using language that in some way says, I hear beyond the words you used to the experience that is creating those words.
Here is a quote from the book, The Monster of Florence, by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi, that suggests the damage that a dysfunctional language can create:
“There is no longer true communication among us, because our very language is sick, and the sickness of our discourse carries us inevitably to sickness in our bodies, to neurosis, if not finally to mental illness.”
and another –
“The worst thing in the world isn’t being alone, it’s being surrounded by people who make you feel like you’re alone.” Unknown.
and another –
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” David Augsburger
Here’s a question – what is the personal experience in my world that I want to share with you through the words that I have written above? Feel free to share a comment below.