Is it just me or is society slipping backward in effective verbal communication? We are all aware that society has become polarized but that polarization seems to be having a negative influence on how we communicate with each other. Many people seem to have a preset to listen to refute rather than to listen to understand. Perhaps some of that results from watching political interviews. Two people with opposing views argue a position. Neither has any interest in hearing what the other has to say because they already know the talking points and have a rebuttal ready. That is the norm for that kind of discussion. The people involved have a mission and they are doing their best to accomplish it. That is generally not our mission in our daily verbal interactions with others.
But it seems that society is moving away from listening to understand. Our Being Better Program includes an element on verbal communication and I am finding that we need to spend more time on exercises aimed at verbal understanding. I recently worked with a group of customer service representatives who were spring loaded to put the blame on the customer without understanding the customer’s concerns. Our first exercises demonstrated that they were not hearing what the fictitious customer was telling them. When asked to recap the fictious customer’s concerns, none of them could do so accurately. They had spent the time in which they should have been listening to the customer developing their response. We had to do nearly an extra hour on listening exercises before we achieved the level we considered to be satisfactory.
I fear that the preset to refute is not isolated to customer service folks. I see it all around. This preset to refute seems to be today’s norm in personal and business communication as well as in the political arena. If we want more effective verbal communication, we need to press the reset button on our personal presets.