The art of listening and cultivating effective and efficient communication were the topics of the Infinite Mindcare Talk Series on June 16 at Books & Books.
Psychologist Dr. Lili Wagner and psychotherapist Dallas Dralle led the interactive talk, which covered both verbal and non-verbal communication.
“When we talk about communication, we think of directly talking, but it’s so much more than that,” said Dralle, adding that we constantly send and receive messages even when we don’t speak.
She cited social media as an example, which negatively impacts development, reduces attention span and creates a culture of fear of speaking face-to-face, especially with the younger generation. Both Dralle and Wagner suggest that parents model the behaviour for children by putting their phones and computers away during family time to avoid distraction and enhance interpersonal communication.
LISTENING — A LEARNED SKILL
Wagner cited a study conducted in 1967 that found 55 per cent of our communication comes from body language; 38 per cent from our tone of voice; and 7 per cent from actual words spoken.
“Hearing is not just a physical process; it’s passive, too,” she said. “But listening is a physical and mental process. It goes through your ear, into the auditory cortex behind the temporal lobes, and then somehow your brain has to figure it out and process it.
“Sometimes you’re talking to someone and they hear something totally different and miss the point of what you’re trying to tell them, If we’re not listening, we’re not connecting with that person,” Wagner said.
The bad habits of listening include: interrupting; jumping to conclusions; giving unsolicited advice; making up your mind before receiving all the information; being a compulsive note-taker; not giving any response afterward; being impatient; losing your temper when you hear things you don’t agree with; changing the subject back to your own experience; and thinking more of your reply rather than listening to what the other party is saying.
“Listening is a skill, an art form, and doesn’t come naturally to everyone,” said Wagner.
She also broke down the seven levels of listening, which include: not listening; pretend listening; partially listening; focus listening; interactive listening; and engaged listening.
Engaged listening involves being sympathetic and empathic, resulting in a nice flow between two parties. “They feel the connection and the love, and are being heard. Engaged listening is where we want to be,” she said.
Dralle suggests taking respectful breaks when listening becomes mentally exhausting. Asking for 20 minutes to process thoughts or to calm down during a heated conversation can be beneficial to both parties.
“I work directly with parents on ‘emotion coaching,’” she said. “I always suggest learning to validate your kids’ problems without solving them. It can be overwhelming, but you don’t always have to know the answer and sometimes there are no solutions readily available — and that’s okay. They just need to be heard and understood by someone.”
STYLES OF COMMUNICATION
Dralle said people tend to gravitate to one or two styles of communication out of four different styles: passive communication (“your needs matter, mine don’t”); aggressive communication (“my needs matter, yours don’t”); passive-aggressive communication (saying “it’s fine,” when it really isn’t); and assertive communication, the ideal style that involves emotional intelligence.
“Emotional intelligence is found to be an important factor in our success, both professionally and personally,” said Dralle. “That is what therapy is all about — enhancing your own emotional intelligence.”
She also said it’s important to pay attention to your inner dialogue and “automatic negative thoughts,” which she refers to as “ANTs.” She works with clients to identify these ANTs since they tend to increase anxiety and depression, and involve words like “always” and “never,” jumping to conclusions, and being hard on yourself.
“Stay realistically optimistic,” she said. “It might be a rough day or week but tell yourself, ‘I’m going to get through this.’ Challenge those ANTs optimistically and it will set up the day in a better way.”
Wagner added that when you talk nicely to yourself, then you begin talking nicer to others, resulting in a massive shift in communication.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” she said. “Let go of negative thoughts. Be mindful and recognise your positive attributes and say them to yourself.”
Added Dralle: “Talk to yourself like you would to a person you love, like the way you would to your best friend or partner.”
The next Infinite Mindcare Talk Series event will take place at Books & Books on July 21, at 2 p.m. with the theme “Chill out: Managing your anger before it manages you.”