Relations: Give the Gift of Conversation

Give the Gift of Conversation

by Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM / Published December 2014

With the holidays approaching, almost all of us will be spending more time with family and friends. While some of these gatherings resemble a “Hallmark” moment with warm feelings and intimate, safe relationships, others resemble a nasty, reality TV show. Some conversations will be meaningful; others just plain mean.

Communicating is like going up one side of the ladder and down the other, listening and talking. That means communicating is the giving and receiving of information with understanding. Perhaps now would be a good time for a refresher course on both.

There are five listening levels:

Going up the rungs, level one is non-listening. This is when a person deliberately chooses not to listen or hear any noise or conversation unrelated to them. They have knowingly tuned or blocked out what is being said. This is appropriate when there is background noise or irrelevant conversations.

The second step up is passive listening. This is when you carry on a conversation of minimal importance. Examples would be casual listening at happy hour or while mingling at a party. This is “in one ear and out the other” conversation. There is no need to remember anything or give a response.

The next rung going up the ladder is limited listening. At this level, you are doing the best you can to listen to a monologue conversation where you only have to give an occasional response. You are able to tune in and out while thinking about what was said; you hear what is related to you. This would include listening at a lecture, sermon, or most staff meetings.

Next to the top is selective listening. In this higher level, you are listening to get the big picture, the concepts, or the ideas in order to understand. You are listening for the bottom line information. Details are being filtered out so you can analyze the situation and formulate an opinion or steps of action. You are going to be asked to respond or for your opinion.

At the top rung is true listening. This is listening that is involved. It conveys respect in that you are giving the talker your undivided attention. You are listening to learn about or learn from the other person. You are listening to understand, not to be understood. You are not waiting for them to stop talking so you can tell them your opinion. Instead, you are listening in order to find the next question to ask them so they will keep talking. This level of listening is empathetic and hears the feelings behind the words.

Listening levels vary based on the environment. During the holiday times, the first or second level of listening may be appropriate. But if your son wants to talk to you, you’d better move to the top rung and use true listening.

Going down the ladder, there are five intimacy levels of talking:

The first level is that of casual conversation or chitchat. This shallow depth of intimacy is what we experience in the elevator or grocery store line. “Good morning; how are you?” 

But we really don’t mean to indicate any interest in your well being. We would be shocked and feel trapped if someone actually answered that they were “terrible.” 

Going a second step deeper,we exchange facts about what we know. Conversations at work or in the clubhouse often reflect this level. Here are some examples. “The Rangers surely are doing poorly this baseball season.” “What a roller coaster in stock prices this last quarter!” “What did you do last weekend?”

Taking another step down, we exchange ideas. Here we are secure enough to tell others what we think. We have moved beyond just facts and feel safe enough to give our opinions. We believe the people we are talking with are interested in and value our opinions, and we value theirs. This type of conversation may reveal a person’s moral compass, religious or political beliefs, worldview, value system, or character. People build many solid friendships on this level.

Going deeper, we go beyond facts and opinions and share how we feel on a wide range of issues. Our voices and body language will reflect the emotion. This type of conversation is beyond just words like “she makes me so mad” in that you can see the emotion. From the angry expressions, clenched fists, and loud voice, there is no doubt she is mad. Or the matching words and emotion of the manager literally jumping for joy, smiling, and shaking hands with coworkers saying, “I got the contract!”

On the deepest level is the exchange of hopes, dreams, fears, and failures. This level involves personal transpar-ency that leads to a sense of being totally known by the other person—the good and the bad. True intimacy lies at this level. At this level, the other person knows our strengths and character assets, but also our faults and deficiencies. We were not afraid to reveal those faults believing that the other person will not use them as weapons against us. Sadly, many relationships, including those in families, lack this level of communication. We do beat each other up using the faults we thought we could be transparent about. Most of us would only have a handful of people we can share with on this deepest level.

Disclosing emotions is not easy for most people. And that’s okay. It involves time and risk. There are relationships that are appropriate and safe to do so within; there are others that aren’t. Some of our conversations with family friends need to stay on level two. Attempting to go deeper down the intimacy ladder with some family members should be avoided, despite the fact that they are family and you should be able to talk at a deeper level.

Give the gift of conversation this holiday season but choose carefully your rung on the ladder.