Coping Skills - #2A - Active Listening

Robin Cunningham Health Guide


    We live in an encyclopedic, sound-byte, slogan filled era with more passwords than people. Blogs and the like are supposed to be short, self-contained, electronic documents best without external references. Text messaging employs an arcane vocabulary. [I asked my daughter what "lol" meant; she lol'd at my ignorance.] When my wife talks about her day at work she uses so many acronyms that I'm no longer certain what she does. At least until November, political slogans will abound. CNN is inundated every day with "I-Image" submissions from the multitudes who long to see their credits on HDTV. So what else is new?

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    Well, let's start with the fact that most people have forgotten how to listen. In my SharePost submitted on January 27, 2008 entitled Coping Skills Series - #1A - Monitoring Your Interactions with Others, I observed that experts report about 75 to 85% of all communication is non-verbal [and how this complicates the lives of those of us with schizophrenia]. Textual electronic communications, such as e-mail and text messaging, which contain no body language or voice inflections, can be the source of misinterpretations with devastating consequences, both in commerce and romance.


    Now the English vocabulary is itself under assault from electronic abbreviations that squeeze the last drops of subtlety and innuendo out of our communications. If the trend continues our grandchildren will be grunting at each other over the internet. Our best hope for salvation may well turn out to be the much maligned webcam.


    All this reminds me of the old conundrum - "If a tree falls in the forest with no one around to hear, does it make a sound?"


    To loosely paraphrase the above - if we're not listening or watching when someone else is speaking to us, is there communication? Those of us with schizophrenia already have difficulty enough interpreting voice inflections and body language. In our communications, we need to avail ourselves of every scrap of information that someone talking to us provides, willingly or unwillingly. The absence of body language and voice inflections in textual electronic communications may actually serve to level the playing field for individuals with schizophrenia. No one has an advantage, because these communications are restricted to only 15 - 25% of what is possible. The tragedy is that, while leveling the playing field, it impoverishes the communications of us all.


    The solution to this puzzler is to preserve wherever and whenever possible the power and impact of the full range of information possible in our communications. Which gets us back to the question of how can people with schizophrenia best compensate for their difficulty in deciphering body language and voice inflections? The solution is both unfortunate and fortuitous.


    If you carefully read the e-mail you receive, you will discover that people are often very careless about grammar and spelling. In fact, if you were to transcribe e-mail communications into the old fashioned form of letters, i.e., script or print on paper, it would be found embarrassing. These short-comings in e-mail communications are scarcely noticed, which means that the recipients of e-mail and the like aren't "listening" very well. This carelessness gives those of us with schizophrenia an opportunity.


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    First, we should favor in-person communications, where the hints of body language and voice inflections are available to us. If this is not possible, we should, to the greatest extent possible, communicate over the telephone where at least voice inflections can be considered.


    "But wait," you say. "You described our difficulty in interpreting non-verbal communications as a disadvantage above. How can you now claim that it can be an opportunity?"


    And so I did. However, our difficulty interpreting non-verbal communications puts us at a disadvantage only if others (who have the native ability to interpret these) are listening carefully, and there is abundant evidence that most other people do NOT listen carefully. To this we can counter with "Active Listening" and actually garner more information from non-verbal communications than most other people.


    In my next blog I will discuss the art and science of Active Listening.



    Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should seek professional assistance.


Published On: February 24, 2008