Letter from Ed: What You Are Hearing Is Not What I Am Saying
In today’s society all of us need to watch what we say and, more importantly, how we hear things. Unless we are careful on both the giving and receiving fronts, there will be a great deal of room for spin when communicating.
By Edward C. Brindley
Date Posted: 10/1/2006
My church is going through a transition time to replace our founding pastor. The silver lining in this cloud is Pastor Ryan, an elderly gentleman who exhibits a great deal of wisdom and doesn’t mind speaking from his heart and experience.
A few weeks ago he spoke on the subject “what you are hearing is not what I am saying,” or should I say, “what I am saying is not what you are hearing.” Ever since his sermon, these words have resonated through my thoughts. Throughout the pastoral search process I have watched people misread what others said and often not hear the words in a conversation. It has reminded me of much of the miscommunication that we experience in our own industry.
I have become a fan of Bill O’Reilly and his “no spin zone.” What an appropriate name! People have become so adept at putting a spin on words that they often lose their meaning. People often do not hear what is said, at least judging from their reactions and often from what they play back about a conversation.
I have expressed my distaste for e-mail before in this column and have not altered my e-mail concerns one bit. Some might argue that I am stuck in my ways and don’t change my opinion easily. You know what? They would be right! E-mail can be a good way to interject information on an issue when there is already a good basis for understanding and communication between two people. But it is a terrible way to start a relationship, or even to start a new discussion if a common ground of understanding is not already established.
With e-mails it is difficult to listen accurately. There is no body language, no voice inflection, etc. In a conversation, I try to listen carefully to both what is said and how it is said. If something is not said, I try to avoid reading my own feelings into it. I try hard not to put my own spin on things just because of my own preconceived opinions, but all of us are human, and hence fallible.
Being a good listener is not easy, but it is the single most important part of communicating effectively. Just about anybody can talk, but being able to express oneself well is a rare gift. Being able to listen well is even less common.
You might say that it has always been that way. To a certain extent that is true, but putting a personal spin on virtually everything that comes down the pike has become an epidemic. When I was a young man, I remember telling myself that when I got older I was not going to think like an “old fogy.” I now realize that I have become just that. I can now say with confidence that it ain’t like it used to be. Sound like an old fogy now?
But the fact is that people tend to put a spin on so many issues these days. People so often do not listen well, and they do not think about what they are going to say before they say it. Everybody is guilty of doing this some of the time, even yours truly. But we can improve upon our communication skills by truly paying attention to what we think, what we say, how we say it, and how thoroughly we listen. All of this requires a conscientious effort to think about the things we say and write, as well as how we listen and read.
I confess that being a fair and effective communicator can be difficult. In the very least, it requires a serious effort. I have found myself defending my actions and saying something that I shouldn’t because I am so close to the situation. For example, it may be difficult to discipline my own grandchildren because after all, they are my grandchildren! I may let them get away with actions and words that would be difficult to tolerate from other mere mortal children.
If somebody takes offense with something that either my staff or I writes, I may bristle up and get my nose out of joint. After all, I know how hard we work to write about things of interest to our readers, make sure what we say is accurate, and work to say it with a degree of caring and grace. If I perceive that somebody is making a mountain out of a mole hill, it is natural that I will become defensive. Remember that communication is a two way street, and all of us have a great deal to learn about it.
The bottom line is that in today’s society all of us need to watch what we say and, more importantly, how we hear things. Communication is necessary; in fact it is very valuable. But unless we are careful on both the giving and receiving fronts, there will be a great deal of room for spin. I hope you understand what I am saying here. Quoting pastor Ryan, I am always concerned that what you are hearing is not what I am saying.
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