Closing the Feedback Loop

In earlier articles, I've often spoken about the supreme importance of becoming a good listener. I've even gone as far as to suggest that listening might be the most important communication skill of them all.

It should be so simple. Yet, it's not simple.

Before I explain why, let me tell you an enlightening story. Dr. Mort Orman of Stresscure.com conducted a communication seminar for a group of experienced physicians on the staff of a certain hospital. It was held on the hospital premises. One particular doctor was a rather reluctant attendee - he showed up only because his department head had pressured him to do so.

During the seminar, participants were paired up with partners, and one member of each pair was asked to play the role of a patient with a problem. The partner played the role of physician or counselor.

The catch was the "doctors" weren't allowed to do or say anything. Their job was just to sit and listen, while their "patients" described their complaints and thought aloud while trying to work out their own solution.

As Dr Orman notes (and as a veteran physician, he should know!) to tell a doctor to just sit there and listen - without as much as thinking of what to do - is usually asking an awful lot. But the response of our reluctant participant took everyone by surprise.

For the first time, he really understood...

At the end of the experiment, when everyone was sharing their insights and experiences, he raised his hand and announced with unmistakable enthusiasm: "What I learned from this exercise is that I almost never listen to my patients! I'm mostly paying attention to the thoughts in my own head, and I never really appreciated this until today."

Apparently, this man was so excited by this new awareness of self that whenever there was a short break in the remaining seminar proceedings, he would rush upstairs to practice listening to his patients. He would sit on the bed, ask a few questions, and then listen intently. In fact, he was so impressed with his newly-found power - not dawning on him that he had possessed it all along - that he would consistently arrive late for start of the following session. For the first time, he felt he really understood what made his patients tick - or why they weren't ticking, depending which way you look at it.

Now, when you go out your way to try to understand how others are feeling, how they perceive a given situation, what's really bugging them, the process, as a rule, doesn't just end there. Well, at least, it shouldn't.

Most likely, you'll respond. You'll communicate back to the other parties your awareness of their feelings and perceptions, your appreciation of their hopes, doubts and fears. Before you know it, you have created what some writers call a feedback loop.

To close a feedback loop, in short, requires validation of the message your opposite number wants to convey to you, even if you don't agree with it.

Here's a true incident to illustrate what can happen when a feedback loop is not closed. It's a very extreme example, and it's very far from a pretty story. But it does give us something to think about.

During World War Two, one cattle car after another, packed with human cargo, arrived at the Auschwitz death camp. Terrified, naked people were driven with whips into the gas chambers.

But two young men managed to escape under a pile of clothing that was being carted away in a truck. Even more than the desire to save their own lives, they were motivated by the wish to warn their fellow Jews of the incredible scenes they had witnessed with their own eyes.

Unfortunately, hardly any one believed them. The few who did were silenced as being crazy or lacking in faith. Eventually, both young men committed suicide.

As I said, an extreme, most tragic, case. Who knows how we would have reacted had we been the listeners?

But at least we should understand the added pain of a spouse or fellow worker who shares with us something weighing very heavily on their minds, when we respond with a glib, perfunctory: "Don't worry, everything will be OK!"

It's like removing a chair from under their feet.

Azriel Winnett is the creator of Hodu. com - Your Communication Skills Portal. This popular website helps you to improve your communication and relationship skills on all levels, in business and professional life, in the family unit, and on the social scene. New articles added almost daily.

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