18 September 2014

Are you tracking what I’m saying?

"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply," said someone on some cheesy Facebook post.

How true is that statement?

A command sergeant major once told me to pass the word about a class he would be teaching on communication. My first thought: “You interrupt every single person you speak to and you’re going to teach others how to communicate?!” 

The Army tends to over-train on the simplest tasks. I believe the reason some of this training doesn't sink in is because of the average human's attention span.

Learning the necessary basics of “communicating effectively” doesn’t need to be an hour-long PowerPoint presentation. Here's what I have learned from a combination of a couple freshman-level psychology classes and what my MOS calls "public affairsing". 

1. Stop interrupting! By virtue of rank, I see leaders doing this the most with their subordinates. How is it possible for you to fully understand what your super troop is saying if you incessantly cut them off? Some people are talkers, I get that, however most soldiers can't say two complete sentences without being cut off.

2. Take a breath in between the time the other person stops talking and you begin. It sends the message that you actually absorbed what they said rather than just rebutted. 

3. Avoid your personal agenda. Leaders, if you just want to be heard, then make that clear up front, otherwise, shh. Don’t toy with your soldiers’ emotions and ask them questions if you have no intention on actually hearing them.

4. If someone has headphones in, there's a good chance they don't want to be bothered. I know paralegals and public affairs troops can relate to this! You’re sitting there trying to transcribe an interview and someone stops you to ask if you know what the chow hall is serving for lunch. Unless it's something that's necessary to say, take the hint. 

5. Stop interrupting. It's not your turn to talk. 

6. Stop interrupting. You don't know what the other person is going to say so don’t try to finish their sentence.

7. Stop interrupting. It's downright rude! 

8. Stop interrupting. For peers: Your message isn't more important than the person speaking. For subordinates: Yes, sometimes a leader’s message is more important than yours. 

9. Stop interrupting. It makes leaders look self-absorbed to the point their troops may feel like there's no point in even being there, because you could have the entire discussion by yourself.

I emphasize "stop interrupting" because it is by far the primary culprit for misunderstandings which lead to arguments. Arguments lead to broken relationships, which lead to violence and hatred, which then leads to more people walking around angry at the world. People who are angry at the world cause horrific and unnecessary wars.

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

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