“You are not listening to me!” My teenager shouts angrily. What she actually means is that she hasn’t talked long enough to convince me of her point of view. I think back on our conversation and remember how she has repeated herself again and again in an effort to get through to me. I’m frustrated by her persistence and yet have a true desire in my heart to ‘hear’ her needs.
It reminds me of how Christ speaks to us in the Gospels. Often he repeats himself. “Verily, verily, I say….”, “Amen, Amen, I say…” What is the reason behind His persistence and His use of the words He says twice?
Do I know how to speak so that my students will hear me? Do I listen so that they feel they have been heard? Learning and implementing communication techniques can help us to increase the effectiveness of speaking and listening to our students.
The Talking Stick
One communication technique is the (Native American) talking stick. An object (stick or something else) is given to the speaker. No one else can speak until the person holding the object has fully expressed him or herself. No one feels cut off and everyone gets the chance to talk.
Each person writes his/her response or thoughts about a subject and then they exchange letters, read and discuss them. The benefit of this format is that each person can process and express their thoughts completely and without immediate fear of repercussion. It is a thoughtful, less reactive approach to communication.
One more helpful way to increase communication is the ‘mirror’ approach. One person expresses him or herself and another states what that person has just said. For example: “I wish you remember to do the homework I assign. I put a lot of thought into what I am teaching you.” The (offending) person answers, “I hear that you do not appreciate when I come to class unprepared. I will try to be more considerate of your feelings and the work you have done to prepare this lesson.”
Humor is a wonderful way to break the tension when communicating. It must be administered gently and without any sarcasm. One instance when we were very upset with our (then) teenage son for some bad grades. He yelled at us, “fine, I’ll just be a bum!” I realized the argument was escalating, so I put my hand on his shoulder and told him, “I believe in you and know if you really try, you can be the best bum there ever was.” He immediately laughed and we all calmed down.
A very important communication rule is that if someone apologizes, that person receiving the apology must answer him or her by stating, “I forgive you.” The response should not be, “It’s okay.” That statement diminishes the apology, the severity of the hurt and it is never okay to hurt anyone. Unfortunately, sometimes, feelings do get hurt and this technique helps us to learn mercy, graciousness and forgiveness.