11 Jul 2011

The Author

David Witt
Dave Witt is the Mississippi Area Manager for CREST Services. Previously, he worked with Samaritan’s Purse, an international, nonprofit Christian relief agency, through which he regularly traveled to developing countries to train biomeds to maintain equipment. His work has taken him all over the world. Most notably, he spent four-and-a-half years in Brazil, where he introduced the country’s first biomedical technology class.


Listen Like A Diplomat

My son Lucas found my old Navy Boot Camp graduation book and another photo journal of my travels in the Philippines and on the South China Sea during the Vietnam campaign. During our hour together, I was explaining things of interest: the barracks I quartered in during boot camp, the ship I was on during the Vietnam conflict, even where I raced Go Karts in Subic Bay. Lucas has taken an interest in things military since his 16th birthday this last March and has expressed a desire to enlist with the Army or Marines. With this knowledge that sat both parents down, I tried to show him the real side of life in the military instead of what recruiters would show.

What took me aback was that this young person caught between boyhood and manhood knew just about everything. When I showed him the rifle I used on the rifle range in San Diego back in ‘71, I said, “This is an M-1 Garand,” or “This is a Colt 45.” Expecting a response of something like, “Wow, Dad!” he instead blurted out the proverbial teen response: “I know.” Everything I tried to show as new information, such as the 500-pound bombs on the ship’s deck, or how to march or tie knots, were given the same response.

It hit me then that I seem to have heard this response before. But where?

Over the years, the “I know” response came from my peers, superiors and subordinates as well–and of course, from my teenage children. I must confess that I have often interrupted conversations using the “I know” approach. The key word is “interrupted.”

“I know” can be used as a tool to short circuit conversation intended to enlighten, instruct, correct or otherwise include the listener in meaningful dialogue. This conversation interrupter is not and never can be welcome in any discourse and can suddenly bring a cordial discussion to a cold close with the use of that phrase. In concise terms, it is rude.

An “I know” response may indicate that the listener is actually not receiving but waiting for the speaker to pause in order to inject the dialogue-paralyzing term followed by a contrary response that can end in frustration instead of mutual understanding. The listener may be so busy formulating his response that his understanding of the speaker becomes fragmented.
Here are some suggestions that might help to foster fruitful conversation:

  • Maintain eye contact in order to demonstrate your interest in what is being said. Looking around or off into the distance may indicate a lack of interest or dismissal in the subject.
  • Listen fully and do not interrupt.
  • Wait your turn; hold your tongue!
  • If you are the speaker, note the facial features, the posture and other body language that provide feedback that the listener is receptive. Pause and ask for a response. Be sure to allow your conversing partner to conclude his statements without disruptive words like…you got it: “I know.”
  • Keep your dialogue in short, meaningful spurts that allow for the listener to receive the information and to respond. Nothing is worse than delivering a lengthy discourse with four points and a conclusion while leaving no room or time for response from the listener.
  • Close cousins to “I know” are the phrases “I understand” and “I see.” They can be used properly to indicate feedback that you are tracking the conversation. Take care not to make them synonymous with “I know.”
  • We have all heard or spoken the words, “What I meant to say is…” This indicates communication breakdown. Effective speaking and listening takes time, practice and patience. Writing down and rehearsing what you want to say is perfectly fine, especially regarding phone conversations and conference calls. Likewise, taking short notes and writing questions could help the listener to remember the question after the speaker is through. I find that when the listener jots something down it is an affirmation that listening is taking place.

Ultimately effective conversation can otherwise be called diplomacy. A diplomat is skilled with negotiating the convoluted terrain called language. Try it. I am certain you will enjoy the benefits that effective speaking and listening can bring to any encounter where dialogue is required.

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