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When Communication Turns to Mush

by Diane Miller | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Editorial | April 26th, 2012

Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated. - Stephen Covey

How often do we try to persuade or influence people by telling them our ownreasons to do something without discovering the way they reason first?

Some universal principles obviously make life easier, so it seems strange that they are not practiced more commonly. Yet because of natural human tendencies and faulty thought patterns, we are blindsided by how ineffective we become when we do not follow such uncompromising living standards.

We often pour our hearts out with concern, love, frustration, or anger to others, only to feel unaccomplished and misunderstood in the end.

So, here is one ragingly unrealized social principle: people are less likely to change if we flood them with our own reasons for doing so.

Here’s an example: How likely is a liberal to change his mind about a political stance after listening to Rush Limbaugh’s radio program?

Not a single drop of a chance.

Vice versa if a Republican were to watch HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. It doesn’t matter how charismatic or smart a person may be. If a communicator can’t find a way to make weight with the listener, the communicator becomes irrelevant.

According to The Harvard Negotiation Project’s business bestseller, “Difficult Conversations,” “… there is no getting around the fact that our conclusions are partisan, they often reflect our self-interest. We look for information to support our view and give that information the most favorable interpretation. Then we feel even more certain that our view is right.”

It is very common for people of all ages, genders, religions, and races to feel frustrated by the behavior of their friends, lovers, co-workers, enemies, etc. The natural response is to either hold grudges, or outwardly tell the person what they don’t like about their behavior and hope they eventually get the picture.

But ordinary people usually don’t get the picture. Instead, we get defensive or think “What is this person talking about?,” “I’m not like that,” or “That was not my intent.”

Human interaction is so devastatingly important, it can make or break us at times. But let’s be honest, we all have been there, had foot-in-your-mouth moments and other communication mishaps.

But realize this: the better we are at interacting with people of all sorts, the more fulfilling life becomes.

Every human on the planet needs the help and support of their friends and family to help when life gets tough. We can count on them because we know that no matter what, they mean well.

Skimping on empathy gets us in trouble.

Of course, it is OK to disagree or differ with other people. In fact, disagreements are an absolute necessity. If nobody differed on anything, the world would be extremely, wildly, awfully, exceedingly boring. But it is also utterly possible to disagree with someone and still validate and appreciate them.

Try to listen at least as much as you speak. Ask yourself, “I wonder what information they have that I don’t?” Instead of certainty, try curiosity.

And let it be clear – the conversation is not about whose stance is right and whose is wrong. It’s about clarity, possibilities. It’s about improving human interaction.

Effective, candid, and positive human interaction is what makes us thrive. It is what makes us smile, gets us through the day.

With movies like “Bully” hitting theaters, we know that’s a major problem in our school system. It’s becoming such an epidemic, there is reason to worry about the future of our young people’s lives.

When the “greatest need of a human being” goes unmet, low self-esteem leads to squandered potential, which can lead to depression, and, in extreme cases, suicide.

Spread the word: empathy is a virtue. Instead of harassing people for their mistakes, give people the benefit of the doubt. Being a good listener makes life easier in the long run.

Without first assuring people we accept them for who they are, there is no room for influence and there is no room for excellence.

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