Social Question

prolificus's avatar

How much effort do you spend on understanding a message before giving your response?

Asked by prolificus (6583points) April 3rd, 2010

I’m asking because I notice a common occurrence with written communication, and I’m wondering if there’s a reason for certain predictable responses.

Realizing there are times when short, immediate responses are necessary and taking the time to listen with the intent to interpret information before responding may not always be practical, I am asking these detailed questions with the following preface:

If time allows for a meaningful conversation…

When you’re listening to someone speak, or reading a message, do you take the time to listen and try to understand the intended message before responding? Or, do you respond immediately without hearing the whole message?

Do you typically respond based on key words you pick out of the message, even if what you think you hear isn’t exactly what the sender was trying to convey? Or, do you ignore the intended message almost completely and hijack the conversation?

How would you describe your active listening skills? Which is more important to you: understanding the sender or sending your message? In other words, do you stop, listen, ask for clarification as needed, and think before you respond—or do you speak / write like a trigger happy gun slinger?

How did you develop these listening skills? Are they effective and helpful for both you and the sender? What would you like to change or improve?

Is there a significant difference with your listening skills between verbal and written communication—as far as your willingness to actively listen before responding? If so, why?

If you’re not sure how to describe your listening skills, here’s an online quiz.

(How you respond to this question will show the actual truth.)

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

21 Answers

Just_Justine's avatar

I would say no. Most of the time when someone is speaking I am not really hearing. Oddly fluther made me aware of this as often my questions are misunderstood. I have started to make a conserted effort in reading more slowly and trying to read between the lines. I have noticed some people have the ability to do this and I am more than thrilled when they answer. I am also pretty awed that they had this insight.

I also need to start practising this more in daily conversations. By watching body language, tones of voice, pace of speech and the words spoken as well as those not spoken. I was taught this in social work, but I have never used. it, sadly.

Axemusica's avatar

I’m gonna try a test. I’m gonna respond first then take that quiz.

Verbally I kind of have selective hearing when I’m busy with something, but when someone actually has a problem and I want to help them I listen very well. I ask for clarification, make sure I know all the facts possible before I start speaking.

Written I’d like to think it’s the same, but written words seem to have a different effect because you can’t read the underlying communication that is lost without hearing. One thing could totally mean another based solely on the tone of voice. So written has to be almost an exact science for the written as to not confuse the reader. I think I have problems in this area, since most of my questions have been misunderstood time and time again.

now for the test…

MacBean's avatar

In person, I let people finish before I even try to respond. When it comes to written communication, I am more likely to skim. (Really not sure why…) But either way, I don’t answer unless I feel I understand what the speaker/writer was getting at. If I’m not confident in my understanding, I ask for clarification. Understanding the sender always comes first for me because what my message actually is may depend heavily on their opinions/intentions/message.

I’m not sure how I developed my listening skills, other than simply by trial and error. They work well enough for me, since I very rarely get into true arguments with people. (I debate a lot because I like to play Devil’s Advocate and take the opposite side, even if I don’t agree with it. It rarely turns into a real fight, though. [And, actually, now that I think of it, this could be part of how my listening skills developed.])

And now, quiz time.

The “Snapshot Report” on that quiz tells me: You responses indicate that your mental attentiveness is rather good, but may need to be improved a little. For the most part however, you generally don’t have difficulty fully attending to a speaker during conversations, and are capable of keeping your mind from wandering. Good listeners will try to find at least one thing remotely interesting about a dull topic instead of zoning out or simply pretending to be interested. They also know how to keep their focus centered on the speaker, no matter how strong the temptation to daydream. In your case, you are doing fairly well in this area, but it’s essential to keep in mind that if you zone out for even a few seconds, you may end up missing out on some important information.

Sounds like a fair assessment to me.

lloydbird's avatar

About as much effort as it takes to entirely wade through a protracted (though interesting) question such as yours.

escapedone7's avatar

How would someone be aware if they missed the intended message? I agree it happens often but to assume the person is doing it deliberately, requires they actually know they missed the intended message. How can that be? I don’t think they do it deliberately. Do you? If they do it deliberately, they aren’t missing the message they are ignoring it perhaps. Maybe it makes a good platform for some other point they want to make. Most of the time I think they just misunderstand the question.

I had a reading teacher tell me once you have to read the lines, read between the lines, and read beyond the lines. I find this is true. However, in trying to read meaning into something that isn’t worded clearly, I am also prone to a little Freudian projection. Searching for meaning that isn’t clear, can cause one to read too much into things sometimes.

Sometimes I like to wait for a few others to respond, while I mull things over. I tried some of your listening skills test. I do fidget with my fingers, or fold my hands, but I don’t think that is because I am not listening. In fact, just like the statue of “The Thinker”, I might rest my chin on my hand or stare off a bit while I think about something they said really hard.

I also find that people don’t like my long winded answers. I’ve already made this answer annoyingly long and it is getting worse. In some instances wouldn’t you want just a succinct simply worded answer? People get annoyed when I go on like this. I suppose if depends on the conversations. Some questions are so simple. “How do I get the stain out of my silk blouse?” Hopefully the answer wouldn’t require an essay. On the other hand, contemplating what sociological influences effect gender roles or something complex would take quite a bit of conversation to mull it out.

Have you ever changed your response after the OP gives more information? Sometimes they reveal just a little bit more later on that changes everything. We can only go on what they tell us. I suppose we can ask a few questions to clarify things, but at the same time degenerating every question into a game of twenty questions can become intrusive or a little tedious. I am a private person. I don’t like divulging any more information than I have decided to. When someone prods something I consider highly personal out of me, I often regret opening up about it. Sometimes I want them to just take what I have asked at face value.

I noticed you asked a question recently about if people took a quiz about their beliefs and if they had changed anything because of it. It was apparently a follow up from a previous question about the quiz. Since I just took the quiz upon reading the question, I had no time to change anything based upon it. I also didn’t really know the reliability of the answers. I would want time to research what each supposed belief system meant. I also questioned the validity of my personal results because there was no option for “I have no freakin idea” on some answers, and I had to click “Not Applicable” over and over again. I don’t think I am necessarily what my results say I am because when I put “not applicable” it was because I am not sure what the answer is. I am still deciding.

You like quizzes a lot, don’t you? I consider them for entertainment purposes only. Perhaps I should be more open minded.

What is your intention of asking this question? Are you hoping for a conversation, or is this like a poll to check different problem solving styles? I think human beings are bombarded with problems to solve every day. Even driving to work requires many split second decisions. Perhaps sometimes we just fire off an answer or solution because if we took this long with every problem in life, we’d never get anything done.

Can I get in the Guiness Book of World Records for rambling the longest? I could go on like this all day. So how have you been. I love your Yoda avatar. I noticed on your last question that your results said you are Quaker. So what does a Quaker believe? I had all kinds of questions on that thread. I stayed out of it though because the point of the thread was not about answering all my questions about quakers. The question asked if I have changed anything based upon the quiz I had taken only seconds before. I have no intention of changing anything until I know a lot more than that quiz tells me.

I am not sure I ever met a Quaker. Why did you choose the Yoda avatar? Are we chatting or answering a question? Am I annoying you yet?

By now people will start saying things like “thanks for the novel”. People seem to prefer it when I don’t ramble. This is interesting though. Will I be moderated for misbehaving?

Ok the short answer. I try to focus on the what the OP really needs help with. But sometimes if their question is really heinously offensive to me (Why do fat people ___ ? Why do black people ___?) Rather than answer I cannot resist the urge to point out that the question is offensive and I think it doesn’t deserve an answer as much as a rip.

Most of the time I give the best answer I can. Sometimes I mess up. I’m not the smartest broad on this site after all. I’m not perfect either. I do try to meet the needs of the OP.

What do you think?

prolificus's avatar

@escapedone7 – I think I love you!

Yes, in some (if not most cases) a succinct answer would suffice. No, in fluther I’ve not changed my response after receiving more information. But, in other situations, I have. Thanks for noticing the question written prior to this one. I’m glad to hear that you’re still deciding.

Yes, I like quizzes. They are entertaining, and sometimes they are helpfully informative.

My intention for asking this question was stated in the OP. I’m noticing a pattern of predictable responses, and I’m curious to know the reason. Yet, there’s more to it than a simple poll of listening styles. I’d like to discuss reasons why we (including myself) communicate the way we do, if it is helpful and effective, and if there’s anything worth changing or improving. I’m asking myself these questions, too. What I think about my listening skills may actually be perceived differently by others. I work in the human service field, and I maintain close friendships. I’d like to know how my listening skills are working and if they are as effective as I think they are.

Apparently, according to the quiz, my skills need much improvement:

Mental Attentiveness 36 (out of 100).

You responses indicate that you have rather poor mental attentiveness. During conversations, you seem to have difficulty fully attending to a speaker, and may often find your mind wandering. Good listeners will try to find at least one thing remotely interesting about a dull topic instead of zoning out or simply pretending to be interested. They also know how to keep their focus centered on the speaker, no matter how strong the temptation to daydream. Keep in mind that if you are not fully attuned to a conversation, you may end up missing out on a lot of important information, which, in some cases, can have rather embarrassing results!

Yes, we make countless, quick decisions daily—requiring countless, quick responses. Hence why I prefaced the OP: “If time allows for a meaningful conversation…”

You’ll need to ask Guinness Book officials about your eligibility. It seems like you are a thoughtful writer! I’m doing well, thank you for asking. Yoda rocks! Yes, the results of Belief-O-Matic say I’m a Quaker. I’ve only visited a meeting once. I’m still reading up (via online resources) Quaker beliefs. I suggest starting here. I chose the Yoda avatar because I think of Yoda as my imaginary sensei, and seeing him in Papal regalia tickles me pink. We (you and me) are both answering the question and chatting away the time. No, you’re not annoying me. I don’t know if you’ll be moderated for misbehaving. Is thinking considered misbehaving?

Just_Justine's avatar

@escapedone7 you have an uncanny ability to hold ones attention, you could have carried on for another page. You write very clearly by the way! After I wrote my own answer I did realize that some of my question were clearly not well written. So for me it is more about, how clearly can I get my point across to a varied audience, and how well can I answer this particular question. What I like about this question is that it hopefully does make some pause for thought. A lot of loose, vague or supposedly humorous answers are given to serious questions. I know for myself the longer I am on fluther the less thought I put into answers. But all aside apart from the ridiculous answers that get on my tits, I am in general pleased people do answer and give it their best shot. After all they could be doing something else more interesting than responding to my various questions which at times can be tedious I would imagine to some. I agree with your point on some questions being annoying like the “fat” question. My only hope is that the OP learned something at the end of the dialogue.

I do try to stick to the “If you cannot say anything good say nothing at all” idea, (as someone pointed out to me the other day) but at times I also become tired and snappish or do not concentrate on the question. I think then it is time for me to get off fluther and fart about the place! Not literally!!

escapedone7's avatar

@prolificus Oh yes, thinking is sometimes misbehaving. We must follow the rest of the sheep and not rock boats. It causes a riot of bleating.

On the internet I have a relatively safe buffer between me and the person I am talking to. My guard is down a little. If it is a family member or friend that I care about a lot, I listen extremely intently. If it is a stranger at my door trying to sell me swamp land in Florida or convert me to the Moonies, I find myself thinking very carefully about their motives behind their words more than their words. I have selective listening.

I think that you are right that on occasion people zero in on a small point or a few words and sometimes lose the context of the OP.

@just_justine Thank you for the compliment.

Axemusica's avatar

@Just_Justine I have no idea what “But all aside apart from the ridiculous answers that get on my tits,” means, but lurve, lol. ;P

liminal's avatar

Your question has no less than 11 sub-questions, with sincerity and sweetness, I am not sure I have enough effort or energy to give you a thorough answer (Please note that I am no stranger to asking multi-faceted questions). Please ask me to fill-in any gaps you find lacking.

I scored an 80 on the quiz you linked, if I didn’t use certain fidgets to focus my attention I may have even scored higher. I am not sure how much stock to put into a quiz based on my perceptions, but it was fun to take. I am someone who has worked very hard to learn what it means to listen and notice, and I still think I have much to learn. I have taken classes on listening and practice, practice, practice. I have also known what it feels like to be heard and I try to emulate those experiences.

While I like to think that I put a great deal of effort into hearing the messages people send , ultimately, my personal assessments mean little with out the balance of what others think. Even then, the effort others put into communicating seems an important piece of the equation (people are very capable of saying what they don’t mean).

liminal's avatar

@prolificus When you say “How you respond to this question will show the actual truth.” do you mean to suggest that how one answers this question will reflect how much effort they put into understanding another’s message?

prolificus's avatar

@liminal – Yes! The mere fact that you noticed how many subpoints there are to this question, attempted to understand my question, provided your response, asked for clarification, and took the quiz proves to me that you have put effort into understanding another’s message. A+ !!!!

liminal's avatar

@prolificus While that is sweet and I adore an A+ (you make me blush), I think it is important to note that I don’t always put effort into understanding another’s message, even though I did this time.

Some of us, sometimes, put a great deal of effort into hearing another and still utterly fail.

wundayatta's avatar

I think my emotions play a large role in determining my style of listening. However, the structural rules of the conversation are significant, too. Let me just give a couple of examples.

When I am threatened, I tend to get defensive. When I’m defensive, I respond to perceived threats rapidly. So if my wife starts to behave in a way that implies a criticism of me, or says anything that I interpret as critical in any way, it’s hard for me to hear her any more. I get scared that we are going to have an argument, and if we have an argument, how will I keep my temper, and in any case, is this going to be the beginning of the end.

So I’ll try to head off the conversation. Perhaps I’ll complain about her. Perhaps I’ll act scared. I don’t know. I don’t do these things on purpose. It’s hard to do anything on purpose when you’re anxious or scared. You’re running on adrenaline then. I have an excess of adrenaline in my system, I think.

On the other hand, if I’m feeling calm and un-threatened, I can listen to anything and I do. Having been around for more than five decades, I’ve had my share of communications classes and workshops and individualized training from therapists.

I’ve found that I prefer to be in situations where everyone can speak their minds in full. I like it when there are structures that encourage that kind of discussion. I’ve learned a variety of techniques to make this happen. I think that all these techniques have something like the “talking stick” technology at their root.

When you use a talking stick, only the person holding the stick (or any other symbolic item) can talk. That person can talk as long as they want, and no one else can talk until the stick is given to someone else. In some groups, the person who has finished talking passes the stick on to another person of their choice. In other groups, the stick travels around the circle from one person to the next.

What using this technique does is it allows people to listen. So much of the time we are competing for air time. When you know you will get your chance, you don’t have to compete. When we do compete, then we have to stomp on the ends of other people’s sentences or else someone else will get there first. Not only that, but we have to think about what we are going to say even as someone else is talking, so that if we get air time, we are prepared to say something quickly and clearly. It might be the only chance we get. This means we aren’t listening to anyone else. We are just listening to ourselves.

When you are operating under rules where you know you will have your turn and you don’t have to be the loud, aggressive talker, then you can listen. Better than that, you can listen without thinking about what you want to say. Every time you think about what you are going to say while someone else is talking, you miss something. You can’t help it. I don’t care how good you think you are at multi-tasking, you’re deluding yourself. Minds can not think two things at once. They don’t do well shifting back and forth, rapidly, either.

In talking stick conversations, you really aren’t supposed to think your own thoughts when someone else is talking. You are supposed to put your full attention on the person who is speaking. You aren’t supposed to worry about what you want to say. Rather, when it is your turn, you speak from your heart—the words you mind pushes forward in that moment, not something you’ve planned. This is supposed to be more truthful, and I agree that it does have a kind of truth that comes when we don’t have time to think up dissimulations.

I’m a big fan of these kind of conversational rules. I like to listen. I like to be in places where this kind of listening and this kind of conversation can happen. fluther is such a place. I also belong to many other organizations that use these techniques. When I teach a class, I also try to incorporate these ideas. The point is that we can learn as much, if not more from listening to each other than we can listening to supposed experts. And of course we learn more listening to others than we do when listening only to ourselves.

Online, in a place like this, you can answer in a way that refers to the question very specifically, and that is the predominantly accepted mode here, I think. However, there are other rules of conversation that take advantage of the way things happen when you listen to people who speak before you. Instead of responding directly to the question, you build on the total conversation—or as much of it as you could read.

Hardly anyone reads every word written before they got there, and I am no exception. I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t have the time to read, and wants to jump straight to what they want to say. That’s fine. However, I am always glad when there are people who actually read every word of every comment, including those as long and dreary as this one. I’m sure they are very few, but I am always appreciative when someone does take the time to hear me out, even when I have written a novel.

prolificus's avatar

@liminal – True and true. For countless reasons, not every conversation deserves or can be afforded undivided attention. Regarding attempts made towards understanding, and yet seemingly end in failure, I don’t think effort put forth is ever in vain. In fact, I think any effort put forth is better than no effort at all, even if it appears to have failed. Effective communication is a dynamic, on-going process; not a cut and dry, pass or fail.

liminal's avatar

@prolificus does this mean you are taking away my A+

prolificus's avatar

@wundayatta – Thank you so much for you insightful and informative response! I like the idea of a talking stick. I’ve heard about such things, but I’ve never experienced it in a group situation. I think it would be a good tool to use, even if I visualize it while I’m communicating with someone.

prolificus's avatar

As I’m thinking about effective communication, and my score on the quiz, I am wondering if certain behaviors / skills should be considered situational and not absolutes. For example, in taking the quiz, I responded that I am more likely to redirect conversation or finish another’s thoughts when I am bored, etc. I have taught small groups and have trained to be a teacher. It is important for teachers to be able to redirect students in order to facilitate group discussion. While this skill is beneficial in a classroom setting, the same skill could be considered rude in an interpersonal conversation.

I do not think there is any right or wrong answer to the OP for this very reason—the possibility that effective listening is based on the situation. If the situation calls for active listening, then the effort put forth is worthwhile. If the situation calls for other reactions/responses, then the lack of effort put forth towards active listening is equally valuable (as the listener is practicing conservation of energy, wisdom, etc.).

Answer this question




to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther