Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Burden of Communication

I think I've mentioned in the past that my husband is not originally from the United States. One of the biggest cultural differences that affect our marriages is communication. Obviously, communication is essential to a marriage!

In America, we put the burden of communication on the speaker -- it is the speaker's role to communicate his or her point well. If the audience doesn't understand, it is the speaker's job to communicate the point differently/better. In my husband's country, good communication is the burden of the listener. If you don't understand, it's your job to figure out what the speaker was trying to convey. (My obnoxious American attitude is to say, "Yeah, and how do I do that without making the speaker explain it better?!") Incidentally, these cultural differences are not just my opinion and observation, but supported by Malcolm Gladwell in his fascinating book, Blink.

Anyway, I read a quote about communication many, many weeks ago that I can't stop pondering:

"Human nature is such that if two people listen, each feels only half responsible for understanding, and if ten people are listening each feels responsible to be but one tenth." Yasutani Roshi, The Lectures from The Three Pillars of Zen.

HMMM. If that's true (and I feel it is based on careful observation), what does that say for any lecture, sermon, homily, class, etc.?

1 comment:

  1. This is really an interesting post. I think that "active listening" is harder than one might think ... maybe it's just hard for Americans who, like you said, put the responsibility of communicating on the speaker. So, I'm curious ... if it is the listener's responsibility and if that listener is "actively listening", how does she/he ensure that the communication has been successful? Perhaps through feedback and questions?

    The Zen quote is also interesting. How many times, after listening to a lecture, etc., do people compare notes? If each person took 100% responsibility, how much more would we hear? Wow!

    Thanks for this post ... I found it fascinating!

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