Advertising
Advertising

3 Steps Towards More Meaningful Conversations

3 Steps Towards More Meaningful Conversations

Women are from Venus and men are to the point. Or how does the saying go? You know the situation – women want to be heard and men want to solve a problem.

I don’t have the magic trick to make men and women communicate effortlessly but I can share one little trick to communication that certainly will help you better understand how to communicate with anybody. I have found that this deeper understanding of communication has been very helpful in all conversations in life.

Information is power?

We live in an age where information is abundant and still the right information at the right time can be the most valuable asset. The number of technologies and channels for information sharing has exploded over the past 20 years and still we pay little attention to verifying the meaning the information.

Talking about information is actually a bit tricky so let’s start by trying to understand the concept of information. The scientific definition of the word is very different from the common, everyday use of the word. In science (information theory), information is a measure of the uncertainty of an outcome — in other words, a measure of the number of possible underlying combinations of data that a message could represent, totally excluding the meaning of what is transmitted.

Advertising

On the other hand, in everyday use of the word, information is an expression for manipulating and organizing data in a way that adds knowledge to the receiver. In this meaning it is important to understand that a core characteristic of communication is that it is transmission of information in the reduced state of data.

A popular example of this is the famous exchange between Victor Hugo and his publisher after the publication of “Les Miserables” in 1861. After completing “Les Miserables,” Hugo left Paris for vacation. Being curious about the reception of his book, he sent a letter to his publisher only writing “?”. The publisher answered with “!” — and indeed “Les Miserables” was a success. Despite the very limited information exchanged, they both understood each other perfectly.

What is information?

The common understanding of information is that it is an expression for manipulation and organization of data in a way that adds value to the receiver. It is common to talk about Data – Information – Knowledge – Wisdom (DIKW). In the DIKW chain, data is the basic level, symbols, uninterpreted, and “as is”. When manipulated, organized, and put into context, data becomes information. When you know how to use the information, you have knowledge, and finally when you know when to use what knowledge, you have wisdom.

In this explanation, data does not have meaning and information is subjective. Both the sender and the receiver of data decide how to manipulate, how to organize, and in which context to put the data. Information can be transferred in various forms (newspaper, internet, email, picture, etc). Knowledge only exists in the heads of people; It is highly personal and is harder to transfer since it is concerned with how to use information and the possibilities are endless. A document used for knowledge transfer may cover the most plausible ways of how to use the information, but hardly all of them. When talking about wisdom you add morals and ethics to guide when to use which knowledge.

Advertising

The importance of what is not said

We think we understand information, but to fully understand what information is, it is useful to introduce exformation, a term coined by Danish author of popular science Tor Nørretranders. 

    Exformation is produced when information is created. It is all the things that are not communicated. Nevertheless, often expected to be understood by the receiver. This presupposes that the sender and the receiver have a somewhat common understanding of the contextual framework within which the communication takes place.

    Before the sender sends the message there is a process of removing unnecessary information. This process is called incitation. There is an unconscious incitation in which the sender’s values, ethics, and mood are reflected — also, a conscious incitation based experience from previous conversations about the topic, previous conversations with the receiver, the current situation, and the reason for sending the message.

    Upon receiving the message, the receiver has to put the message in a context to interpret the message. This process is called excitation, and it’s the process of adding information based on individual values, experiences, motivation, the situation, and the receiver’s perception of the sender to create meaning for the receiver. Based on this interpretation of the message, the receiver will shift to being the sender of an answer and starts the incitation process to make the information transmittable. In course of a dialogue there are several circles of incitation and excitation, and plenty of exformation — in other words, plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings.

    Advertising

    The theory is applicable to every day life as well. In art, poetry, fiction, and comedy, the degree of difference between the incitation process and the excitation process is the difference between success or failure. An unquantifiable but distinct difference may lead to what we call creativity, an unexpected perspective on the transmitted data that creates new insights. In a work of art, there has to be enough exformation to stimulate the receiver’s associations and create meaning, but with too much exformation; If the receiver’s contextual framework is very different from the sender’s, the receiver will not understand and may deem the work of art as rubbish.

    Going back to the example of Victor Hugo, it is very clear that he and his publisher referred to the same contextual framework, and this allowed them both to create lots of exformation; They reduced the transmitted information to single characters and still maintained perfect understanding of each others’ meaning.

    3 steps towards more meaningful conversations

    In any conversation where you want to create mutual understanding, not necessarily agreement, try to keep the following three steps in mind.

    1. Focus on the conversation so you are receptive to all the things beyond the words being transmitted.
    2. Ask questions to better understand the receiver’s excitation process. Do you have an example? Do you have experience of this? How do you feel about that? What did you learn from it?
    3. Help the receiver to understand your meaning by sharing elements of your incitation process. Is there exformation that should be put back into the conversation to facilitate understanding?

    It will not work if you focus on the three steps — remember point 1 above — but with some practice, you can focus on the conversation, create flow, and intuitively inject point 2 and 3 to facilitate the conversation and create mutual understanding.

    Advertising

    I hope that my incitation process in writing this has (consciously and unconsciously) lead me to transmit this message in a way that your excitation process puts it in the context it was intended.

    Did I succeed?

    More by this author

    3 Steps Towards More Meaningful Conversations Get Fit in 5 Minutes a Day with the Ultimate Body Weight Exercise Share Your Small Successes In Your Day to Day Work

    Trending in Communication

    1 7 Hardest Languages to Learn For English Speakers 2 8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener 3 11 Tips for Maintaining a Positive Attitude Every Day 4 What Is the Meaning of Life? A Guide to Living With Meaning 5 How to Stop Being a Perfectionist (Step-by-Step Guide)

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on October 22, 2020

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

    Advertising

    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

    Advertising

    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

    Advertising

    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

    Advertising

    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

    Read Next