A key element to the communication process is listening. In fact, without effectively utilizing our listening skills the information that we collect and translate from others would be misinterpreted. This breakdown in communication can give rise to frustration between the speaker and the receiver. We spend so much time talking that we fail to purposely make listening to a priority in order to recognize it and make the imperative modifications that we need to become better listeners. Petersen’s (2015) book, Why Don’t We Listen Better? helps us to breakdown the communication process by offering tangible measures and approaches that help us to focus on our listening insufficiencies that obstructs us from truly listening to what others are saying.
Petersen (2015) provided a great deal of wisdom and tools that are uncomplicated to use. When we are receptive to his concepts, we are able to spot our own communication and listening skills flaws, make corrections, and progress in this area. Before I read his book, I considered myself to be an extremely competent listener.
Now I see that regardless of my best intentions of being totally present in the listening process, there is still a great deal that I require to master crucial listening skills. Petersen lists a considerable portion of impressive techniques and steps that grant me some relief and comfort in overcoming those obstacles that hinder me from improving my listening skills.
I had no knowledge of some of the concepts and fundamentals that Peterson (2015) announced in explaining some of the barriers that we have in communication which impacts our ability to communicate and listen effectively.
Particularly, his Flat-Brain Theory of Emotions concept, was an ingenious idea to get us to realize how our mind and emotions function by associating our organs (supply a visual perspective) as a way to think of the communication process. The stomach (our feelings), the heart (our personal responsibility), and the head (our thoughts) are relatively connected organs so when they are out of sync with each other an unfavorable cycle takes place.
In my opinion Petersen’s (2015) talker-listener card process is one of the best concepts that he reveals in this book. It provides an explicit approach of how to bear those stressful discussions by taking turns truly being in both roles (listener and talker). If the talker and listener are able to understand their roles and stay within the boundaries of those roles, then both will be on the same wave-length (and stay there) and won’t leave the conversations with feelings of not being heard, misunderstood, and disconnected.
Being in a marriage for over 21 years where both my husband and I are strongly stubborn, we still deal with some of the communication traps that are listed in this book. Petersen (2015) declared that as humans we naturally desire “to want our own way, to stay in control” (p.149). Over the years, my husband and I have learned that these traps tend to drive our communication towards that dark side that brings about more frustration and misunderstanding. Now that we are aware of them, we are able to steer clear of going down paths that derail us from having effective discussions. Petersen’s book shed light on the importance of treasuring my relationships with other people, whether personal or professional.
Petersen’s book rendered readers with a magnitude of valuable contributions to enhance interpersonal communication. In analyzing his concepts, I wasn’t able to determine that any of them are unclear or insufficiently developed. I believe this can be accredited to how Petersen wanted to make sure that the readers are able to understand the concepts in laymen’s terms. This enables them to revamp their listening skills and build better communication, respect, and value for other people.
One valuable contribution is Flat-Brained syndrome. It explains why so many times the communication process goes poorly. We unintentionally allow the stomach (emotions) to overrun the brain (logic). When we empower our feelings to dominate our minds, it saturates our relationships with hurt, anger and frustration. In my opinion, his awareness of this syndrome helps participators in the communication process to recognize that our mutual capacity to communicate can quickly be disrupted when we are in this state of being.
The one common theme that I see in Petersen’s, Why Don’t We Listen Better, Stewart’s Bridges Not Walls, and France & Weikel’s Helping Skills for Human Service Workers is the importance of recognizing and utilizing effective listening skills in the communication process. Although each author assent with each other on having a good understanding of communication skills to improve the art of communication, their viewpoints, ideas, and suggestions are unique and different in establishing good communication skills in relationships. They noticed that Petersen’s idea of the usefulness of the three interpersonal skills is similar to France & Weikel’s viewpoint on empathy, warmth, and genuineness. He revealed that through empathy one will be allowed to see beyond someone’s craziness (flat-brain) and into their pain and experience, through warmth one will be able to nurture and care for those around them, and through genuineness, one will be able to provide the realness so “that others can draw on to invest in their own lives” (Petersen, 2015, p. 249). France & Weikel (2014) describe these characteristics in pretty much the same way, but from a different aspect than Peterson. They see them as being necessary for workers to create positive relationships with their clients and without them it will be difficult to get clients to be in a state of cooperation and collaboration. This is the state needed to promote productive change within clients.
The one difference between the authors is that France & Weikel’s addition of a fourth concept necessary to the creation of positive relationships-alliance. The authors believe that this component “enhances consensus and collaboration” (France & Weikel, 2014, p. 61) in the process of determining and pursuing goals. Stewart (2012) also identified these characteristics as being essential elements that play a factor in allowing people the good fortune of understanding someone. The second idea of Petersen’s that can be correlated to the other authors is how he utilizes a visual perspective of the roles that the stomach, heart, and head play in the evolvement of the communication process. It can be constructive and successful when in balance, but when these are off balance it causes disruption in the communication process. I compare this to Stewart’s three fundamental perception processes-selecting (attend to certainly available cues), organizing, (arrange these cues in order to make sense) and inferring (assign significance and meaning) in which people must use to make sense out of what they experience (Stewart, 2012). Just like Petersen, if these aspects are out of sync, they too will affect the communication process.
The difference in the two authors concept is Stewart’s addition of cognitive schemata (mental patterns used to organize what’s perceived) and how impression formation (implicit personality theories), attribution (internal and external factors that explain other’s behaviors), and stereotyping (preconceptions of others) influences interpretation. Petersen’s second goal of the listener technique focuses on how people must put forth an effort to understand (Petersen, 2015). Petersen states effective listening is a crucial aspect to make listening better. It enables the listener “to understand where others are coming from, what concerns them, and why they do what they do” (Petersen, 2015, p. 124). This concept can be compared to Shafir’s Mindful Listening essay, which enables listeners to improve communication skills by being fully present in the moment (fully absorb the message) to allow the speaker’s message to be heard and respected (Stewart, 2012). In comparison to France & Weikel, Petersen (2015) indicated that in order to effectively listen we must do so by seeing it, hearing it, tasting it, and touching it. France and Weikel (2014) alluded that our nonverbal communications are often transmitted through smell, touch, sight, and sound.
Petersen’s book has provided readers with a lot of insight into effectively listening in our encounters with other people. I think he’s trying to get us to see that when we are fully engaged in conversations it enhances our relationships (professional and personal). The one thing that I am able to take away from Peterson’s book is that the key to the communication begins with listening (not talking). When it begins with listening, the other person experiences a positive and safe environment that gives them support, energy, and confidence.
I have focused a great deal of my time trying to become a great listener (no interruptions, no opinions, no judgments, no thoughts, etc.) that I’m unsure how or when is actually a good time to speak when the talker needs to hear the constructive talk. I’ve noticed in the past few months that I have developed bad habits with my listening to others is who come to me to talk about the same issues (usually married couples with issues in their marriage) that they have been dealing with for months, but continue to make no changes to their behavior or the situation because they feel it’s the other person(s) that need to make changes. They feel comfortable coming to me and I love the fact that they do. I constantly tell myself that you just need to listen and not interject your thoughts or opinions upon them and maybe they will come to realization that they need to make some changes (other than continuing to talk about it). I find myself getting so frustrated to the point that I fake listen (going to another place in my head). I know that it’s wrong and I also don’t like the way it makes me feel (like I don’t care).
There are times that I avoid them so that I don’t have to hear the same story for the umpteen time. Petersen (2015) stamped these types of conversations as “stuck, going nowhere” where talkers are fine talking about the issue without making the necessary changes needed to progressively move forward. I share his stance on not wanting to “spend my (limited) time with folks satisfied with marking time in their messes” (Petersen, 2015, p. 205). In these instances, he suggested that we own our feelings about the conversations and use the explore the future (nesting) technique. I am very wary about using this type of approach because I don’t want to make them seem as if I don’t care or that I’m not compassionate about what they are experiencing at the time. One thing that I can do is stick to questions that allow them to awaken that drive or motivation that they to feel empowered to take those necessary steps. By doing so, I won’t have to worry about them feeling as if I’m not being a good listener. I can also steer the conversation away from the actual problem and more so towards what needs to be done to make the situation better and what part they play in making the situation better. Instead of fake listening and waiting on them to get tired of talking about, I can encourage them to explore and discover their own intrinsic incentives for change. I believe that by incorporating this strategy it will help make my interpersonal communication skills become more rewarding and constructive.