June 19, 2018
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Between the stuffing and shopping, start listening

By Robert KeteyianSpecial to the BDN, Special to the BDN

National Listening Day is today, the day after Thanksgiving. What a great idea. The focus of this day is to “set aside one hour to record a conversation with someone important to you.” It’s part of the Story Corp project, promoted by National Public Radio.

Twenty-five years ago, my mother recorded her father’s story, which remains a treasure in our family. He was born in Armenia, left the village of Darman with his mother and traveled across Europe over several years, arriving in America as a 13-year-old boy. The only English words he knew were “run mouse run,” which he remembered from the little schooling he had.

Stories are all around us. Even the briefest conversation can be a story. It is often through stories that we understand history, science, love and life itself.

Though I applaud the idea and spirit of National Listening Day, I’d like for each and every day to be devoted to better listening.

Listening is one of those activities that we take for granted, but on the other hand we know it is a complex, multidimensional task. It is at least one half, if not more, of the communication equation, expressive language being the other half. But successful expression in relationships depends on our ability to listen — really

listen — and understand. For without understanding, what we have to say will not necessarily result in effective communication.

Recently, I’ve been talking with teachers and others about how little we do to teach interpersonal communication skills to kids. Although communication skills are acknowledged as important in curriculum and educational standards, on close inspection we discover that these skills are focused on writing, oral presentation and expression through the arts.

There is still an essential missing ingredient: interpersonal communication. Why are interpersonal communication skills missing from the mix?

We are in, more or less, a constant state of interpersonal communication — relating person to person around the ordinary and complex human transactions in our daily lives. Talking and listening are so natural that we take them for granted. We learn to talk and listen by cultural osmosis — we simply absorb the language in our

environment through a predisposition for language in our brains.

Learning effective interpersonal communication skills is not about having a broad vocabulary or solid grasp of grammar. Both are helpful but not essential for achieving understanding between individuals. I grew up with people speaking what is commonly called “Broken English,” an old-fashioned term for English as a second language. In spite of this limitation, many people in this category are effective communicators because interpersonal communication is a process that involves words, feelings, gestures, images and much more.

It is imperative that we take the issue of interpersonal communication more seriously as the life blood of human relationships. We are social, relational beings. We require effective interpersonal communication to transact the business of our daily lives at work and at home, to nurture our children and to develop emotional intimacy in our most personal relationships. All these areas are vastly improved with more knowledge about ourselves and more skill in listening, observing, organizing thoughts, accounting for emotion, developing rapport and using words effectively.

So, in the spirit of National Listening Day, let’s begin the discussion about how best to promote good communication skills, focusing on our children and what they need to be effective citizens and successful in their relational worlds.

Robert Keteyian of Ellsworth is the author of “Do You Know What I Mean? — Discovering Your Personal

Communication Style.”

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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