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Sunday Reflections – Better Communication and Listening

Recently I have been writing about how we can listen better to what others are saying with the intention of improving our communication. Effective listening incorporates taking note of the pitch, rate and timbre of the voice as well as facial expressions, non-verbal postures or actions.

Non-Verbal Communication

Watch out for the man whose belly doesn’t move when he laughs.”

Chinese proverb

Only a fraction of our understanding comes directly from words, some say a mere 35 %. Early humans were for some time, without a spoken or written language so non-verbal language was paramount in communicating with one another.

Whilst content is important, detecting the emotions or feelings of what is said is also central to understanding others better. In the book People Skills, Robert Bolton writes that people’s feelings regarding relationships and how each person might, or might not, be coping internally, is communicated primarily via their non-verbal signals.

Self-betrayal oozes from our pores.”

Sigmund Freud

In social interactions, our true inner feelings are sometimes repressed and concealed via the words we choose to say, but they invariably leak out through our non-verbal expressions. Good listeners pay attention to non-verbal language, postures, gestures and actions. Picking up on these covert signals tells us what is the most important to the other person.

Have you noticed that we communicate our emotions, sometimes without conscious awareness, by:

  • shrugging our shoulders in indifference
  • knitting our eyebrows in disapproval
  • moving or tensing our jaw in disgust or disagreement
  • tensing our muscles in nervousness
  • clenching fists in irritation
  • averting eye contact in embarrassment or denial
  • touching or smiling in endearment or affection
  • lingering looks of happiness or contemplation
Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

Vocal Cues

The tone of a voice is another signal. Think about someone using a monotonous voice without inflection and how that might indicate boredom, fatigue, or perhaps negativity and depression.

Conversely, a high pitched animated voice might indicate enthusiasm and louder tones anger and drawn out speech: disbelief. You can pick up a lot of information by listening to the voice. Many times we do this naturally without thinking about it, but do we use that information to communicate better?

Reflective Listening

Reflecting back your interpretation of the other person’s emotional state can assist in checking in or clarifying how the other person is really feeling. The person can then respond, if they disclose more information to you. This may facilitate a more open discussion and brings a feeling of closeness and understanding. You probably do this already naturally with family and friends.

Here are a few examples of reflective questioning:

I sense you didn’t like/don’t agree with what was just said? Have I ‘read’ that right?

You sound like you’re feeling really down? Are you doing okay?

You appear really happy/excited/rushed today? What’s going on for you?

Taking note of facial expressions, vocal cues and non verbal language helps us to listen to others better by understanding their inner emotional state. Clarifying this may lessen confusions and misunderstanding, which will lead to more effective communication as the listener will feel they are understood.

45 thoughts on “Sunday Reflections – Better Communication and Listening”

  1. I’m never aware of noting a single bloody thing about someone I’m talking with and his/her body language. But the tone of voice is a good indicator, alright !
    Now, Amanda, you mustn’t get carried away with all this stuff, or you’ll be so busy interpreting what you see that you won’t hear DE WOIDS !!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Fair point about getting carried away, M-R. We do have to concentrate on the words after all. This is just an adjunct to the speech you are hearing. I think after a while it becomes an automatic observance.

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    2. Good point! When I was going through my psychology degree and then counselling training, the very first thing we had drummed into us was about being non-judgemental. This sounds like a bit of a generalisation, but it’s extremely important NOT to interpret, not to assume, to slow your brain right down, not to consider any comment or immediate replies. Professional listening goes way beyond sensing tone and body language, they have their place, but only once the broader process is learned including reflecting, mirroring, clarifying …… but at the end of the day, as caring and decent human beings we should certainly learn how to suspend judgement which happens second by second!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent point, Dr B. It is so hard not to have that knee jerk judgemental comment, even if it is empathic. My post is not for the professional, it merely gives some hints for everyday communication and skills to better our listening for all human beings. We certainly don’t need to play counsellor in all our interactions, although all the things you mentioned are important – clarifiying, reflecting and mirroring. Everyone is on their own journey and we can never walk in another person’s shoes. The fit is never right!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Quite right, I thought the non judgement issue was worth adding though. I certainly think it’s a more important element than tone, pitch and body language. There’s so much variations between cultures of those elements anyway.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, Chris, have you heard the term poker face? Perhaps you could practice that. But I like that you are expressive. I imagine you a kind, benevolent, positive, capable person, and that comes through in your writing, and no doubt your words. When is showing emotion a problem for you? When you are a little sad, perhaps?

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    1. Indeed. In fact, when one speaks to an effective listener, you often feel so much more appreciated and understood. It does make you feel more fondly of that person.

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  2. I appreciate your words of wisdom, Amanda. I recall your other posts on the topic of listening and communication. My belly moved when I read your quote. Wearing masks has added challenges to picking up clues. We have had the discussion before how non verbal communication was important in your career and my career. A great point, on how the listener wants to be understood and their feelings validated. A great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad your belly moved! Lol.
      On Validating feelings – this is so useful in settling an excited or angry person. I have noted before that unless you acknowledge and empathize with the other person’s feelings they are unlikely to listen to any reason as they feel misunderstood.
      Wearing of masks has added another dimension to the problem, and you would know that better than us, who haven’t needed to wear masks for more than a few weeks at a time. I wonder the long term implications of mask wearing for communication?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sunday Reflections – Better Communication and Listening

    On Sunday, July 18, 2021, Something to Ponder About wrote:

    > Forestwood posted: ” Recently I have been writing about how we can listen > better to what others are saying with the intention of improving our > communication. Effective listening incorporates taking note of the pitch, > rate and timbre of the voice as well as facial expression” >

    Like

  4. I hadn’t seen that statistic about only 35% of communication being verbal before, but it rings true, especially in a long-term relationship. Over the years we – hopefully, anyway – become better at reading our partner’s/child’s/parent’s/colleague’s body language, tone, or facial expressions which helps us understand the emotions behind the words. Erica mentioned that mask wearing presents a challenge, but also posting on social media, where people reading our typed words don’t get the benefit of tone or body language, can create misunderstandings. Good post, Amanda.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so glad that you mentioned the issue of social media and also glad that Eric/ka mentioned mask wearing and its implications in hampering communication. It does make it more difficult when so much of our face is covered up. There are new challenges for sure.
      Social media appears more and more to be an insidious poison with barbs that catch plenty of folks unawares. I have been at the brunt of social media misunderstanding myself, due to cultural differences when posting matters that I see as simply freedom of speech. Others see this type of post as too sensitive. Emojis don’t and can’t really convey all those non-verbal cues that person to person contact gives us.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well said, I couldn’t agree more. Twitter and Facebook in particular have become nests of vipers, from all sides of the political spectrum, all shades of ethnicity and all realms of identity. I am astounded at the many “celebs” who get abuse hurled at them but never think of just closing their accounts! What worries me more is how genuine debate and questioning is silenced especially in the scientific field, I wrote about it recently The Cancellation of Science ……. it’s no different from when Galileo was cancelled for his view of the earth’s rotation not suiting the Catholic Church.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Brilliant post about the easily overlooked topic, the essence of listening and hearing. But I think the technology affected this. People seem to not understand the message and emotions a lot of times. And maybe it’s also linked to the feeling of not belonging to that particular society a person’s in. They feel unaccepted. I also observe that people prefer “Chat” over “Voice” nowadays. It has to be learned how the technology should be used and keep the boundaries!
    It was a good read by the way! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Bittermarsh. Firstly, the issue of being accepted and feeling one fits in, is a perpetual problem in society. We become slowly more accepting of diversity but unaccepting of those who don’t accept diversity! I don’t feel that we will ever be totally inclusive in society. Our brains have this competitive edge that hasn’t yet completely disappeared, in an evoluntionary sense, that drives us to exclude others, intentionally or unintentionally, in minor or major ways so can we all be truly altrustic and inclusive? I would love to think we can achive this, but perhaps competitiveness stems back to some kind of self-preservationary instinct. In the animal kingdom, competition remains very strong for this reason.
      Secondly, I notice the rise in chat over direct telephone calls as you, so rightly pointed out. I myself am guilty of this. Chat is so convenient and doesn’t interrupt the other person if they were busy. You can answer messages at your leisure. I am better at writing than speaking so I feel much more comfortable in a written medium. Probably why I was drawn to blogging? I have more time to choose my words in writing and remember what I want to say. What are the ramifications long term? Are our verbal skills in decline? I think so. Do you?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think the same as you do. A distant friend of mine tells me to send voice messages instead of text messages. But I can’t do that just because now I’m more fond of chatting and just ‘Forgot’ how to naturally record a voice message. So yeah, our verbal skills are decline and we’re more relying on chat and texts. The SMS technology is being overused for sure! But I feel this contributes to my loneliness. Not verbally communicating with people I mean….

        Liked by 1 person

        1. In person interaction is definitely important for our mental health. Conversation is a kind of art, or at least a skill that, like a muscle, needs work to function well. Phone messages are difficult because they are one-sided and you don’thave that reciprocation from the other to give your brain feedback or time to form the next response. But I agree we should absolutely practise them more to keep that part of our brains activated! I am going to aim to do that from now on. Thanks for prompting me to not neglect my verbal skills.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes, we must! They’re important and what’s more important is we pass it on to our next generation. It’s another overlooked topic that we don’t pass it on skills we have… to our next generation. This is also the reason why today more and more people are struggling with several issues like mental health, career options, relationships and so on. Just imagine if the communication skills wouldn’t pass on to our future kids, what sort of life they’re gonna have! Probably not human!!
            I’m glad this conversation made you think about working on verbal skills. I’ll do the same as well!
            I think now I can write a complete article on this topic. I’ll consider this. Hopefully, feature this post on my blog! 😉
            Have a beautiful time! 💞

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes indeed, do post a link or pingback to this post, but please don’t copy and paste it in full, without writing your own content. It is wrong when new bloggers do this without re-blogging correctly.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Don’t worry, I’m not new 😂😂… Won’t pick even a word from your post! ☺️

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              2. So glad to hear that. I trust you! It has happened so many times to me of late and I wonder if I should sportive the links or not. Especially when the blogger receives kudos and loads of followers for the content without writing one word themselves. Has it happened to you too?

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              3. Oh well!! It didn’t happen to me at all. Neither do I care if it does… I’ll put all of my work under CC0 license in near future!!…. I got issues with copyright law 🤭😝..

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              4. What issues? CCO license doesn’t necessarily cover you, and is it worth pursuing copyright infractions considering they change from country to country.

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  6. I find it easy to believe that only 35% of communication is verbal. As social media has taken over our lives I’ve often thought about how much of the message I’m missing when I only *talk* with people via the keyboard. I don’t see the rest of what they’re saying and that bugs me. No way around it, other than awareness that there’s more to the message than I’m seeing so be slow to make assumptions.

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    1. A perceptive comment, Ally. It is little wonder that missing out on 65% of the intention of a social media message, that it gives rise to disagreements, misunderstandings and divisivesness. And, scarily, this is the medium we choose to get most of our information from!

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  7. I’m an open book. And that’s quite clear in the actual book, a travel memoir, I recently published, haha. I agree we all have unconscious reactions, when listening and when talking. My voice gets loud when I’m excited. I get passionate discussing travel, dogs, and writing, for example.

    I also think I used to be a better listener. I need to work on that. I find that when I’m tired, I interrupt people less when they speak. 🙂 We all have a lot to learn when it comes to communicating. Maybe this comes with age?

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  8. I love this subject as you well know, Amanda. It just took me awhile to get back and leave a comment. Seriously distracted this summer. I work hard to be a better listener as often I want to share my thoughts on a subject and have to reign myself in. Being brought up in a very abusive home, I learned to read people quickly before there was an explosion. Sometimes you just don’t hear the words, you hear the emotional buzz of a time bomb. I also lived with a narcissist for 24 years and they hear nothing. Communication is like talking to a brick wall. Now you know why I write. 😉

    Like

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