What stops us communicating?

September 18, 2020

I’m often asked why I wrote How to be Heard. The answer is that, in my experience, most people don’t listen very well. And they don’t speak very well either. The problem often stems from many social causes.

You can listen to the audio blog or read the transcript below.

The rise of writing

Did you know we’ve been speaking for around 100,000 years? Complex language has been around for a long time. But writing is only about 4,000 years old. It’s latecomer in our communication pantheon. Nevertheless, it seems to have overtaken speaking. Most of the new ways that we communicate are written. Email, instant messaging, Facebook statuses… You get the idea.

Now, writing is brilliant. It’s got many advantages over speech – it’s referable, editable, revisable. There are times when writing is the best mode of communication.

But research shows that many children would rather write a text than speak to somebody. It’s time get the pendulum to swing back a bit more towards spoken communication. So, next time you’re about to send an email, ask yourself whether a phone call or face-to-face conversation might get the job done better.

Our noisy world

Our environment doesn’t make it easy for us to speak and listen well. The world’s getting noisier all the time.

I live in Orkney, a group of islands off the North Coast of Scotland. And there’s a reason I chose to live there. We don’t have much in the way of cars or aeroplanes. It’s very quiet, apart from natural sound like wind, and water, and birds.

But I spent many years living in a big city – as so many people do. When you’re surrounded by noise, it’s a lot harder to listen. You get into the habit of ignoring and suppressing the sound around you. It’s particularly troublesome in places like hospitals and school -where speech intelligibility can be less than 50%.

Whilst we can’t control a lot of the urban sound around us, we do have kind of control over the spaces that we live and work in. Consciousness is key here. If we’re aware of the noise around us, we can start taking steps to improve it. We can move away from a noisy coffee machine. Or make our employees aware of the need for quiet spaces at work.

Teaching speaking and listening

We teach our children how to read and write. But we don’t teach them how to speak or listen.

Very few countries do anything more than the rudiments. The USA has more of a focus on public speaking, but I’ve yet to hear of a school which teaches and tests listening skills. It’s a silent skill that’s ignored. We’d be shocked if a child left school unable to read or write, and yet, children leave school every year unable to speak or listen. They’ve never been taught, and we assume we’re going to develop those skills naturally.

If you’d like to learn how to overcome these barriers,  How to be Heard is full of practical exercises and advice.

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