Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Are You Being Heard?

A good teacher must be able to put himself in the place of those who find learning hard. 
-Eliphas Levi

One of the teachers in my high school was an graduate of an Ivy League School. All of the students were able to recognize that this man possessed an intense amount of knowledge. Despite all of this, the consensus among the students was that he was the worst teacher in the school. This wasn't because he couldn't control the class, nor was it because he lacked personality. The reason he was not a good teacher was because he could not understand why the students weren't understanding the material. He was so smart but he could not grasp that concepts and methods that were so easy for him could be so difficult for others.

Communication isn’t talking. Communication isn’t conveying a message. Communication is the art of giving over information in a way that the recipient will understand what you are trying to convey. Whether at work or at home, whether with peers or with children, to properly communicate one must know that the other party understands what you are saying.

But there is also one additional step, and that is learning how to communicate so that the other person will not only hear, but will take action. The same message can be conveyed in different ways, one will be heard, while the other will be the motivation to act. In a previous article, I wrote about how knowledge needs action. While that article was directed at the person with the knowledge, it is something the communicator needs to recognize as well. Often people mistakenly believe that the transference of knowledge is the goal of communication, it isn’t. The goal should be to transfer the knowledge in such a way that the recipient will UTILIZE the knowledge.

I would like to now share a personal story, with the names and places changed. A number of years ago I was approaching a shul shortly before maariv. Outside I saw a friend of mine, let’s call him Ezra. Ezra was in front of the shul smoking. This disturbed me for two reasons. First of all, I had never seen Ezra smoke before. Secondly, looking at his mannerism, he seemed quite stressed. So I asked Ezra what was wrong. Before he even got around to tell me what’s wrong, Ezra blurted out:
 “I can’t handle it. I’m going to crack, I don’t know what I am going to do.”
This took me completely by surprise, but I tried to remain calm. so I asked him to kindly explain to me what the situation was.
He then told me “My Rabbi told me I need to move with my family to Wichita, and live there for the next 3 years, but I can’t I’ll crack, it isn’t for me”
I asked him what his wife thought. “My wife wants to do whatever I do”.
Then something fascinating started happening, Ezra started convincing himself that he should go.
He started saying “My Rabbi is right, this is what I need to do. This is my calling...Three years isn’t such a long time...I’m gonna go, I gotta go...It is only three years, three years isn’t so long, and I’ll be returning once those three years are up”
This upset me. He knows it is in his best interest to stay, but how could I get him to realize this? The idea of his moving is scaring him but he keeps talking himself into it.
So I asked him the following: “How old is your daughter?”
He responded: “My daughter is four”
I then said: “So you are saying that when your daughter is seven you will be returning back to Israel?”
His face fell, he said in a haunting whisper “Wow, that’s a long time”.

At that point maariv was starting, so we went in to the shul. A few days later I saw Ezra, he was a different man than the one I saw outside of the shul. He ran over to me to tell me that he turned down the Wichita offer, and he thanked me. I told him he didn’t need to tell me that he turned it down, I saw it on his face.

Saying that something was going to take three years can be said in multiple ways. Saying “your four year old daughter will be seven when you will return” was communication that caused action.

Einstein famously said: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Is that how we communicate with our children, with our parents, with our peers? Do we say the same thing over and over again expecting different results, or are we able to say the same thing in a different way?

In order to transform oneself from a speaker into a communicator, one needs to develop the following two skill-sets. Firstly one needs to be able to gage whether or not their message has been heard and whether or not it has led to action. Once they have that skill-set, they will then need to develop the capability to convey their message different ways and forms. This is needed when they discover that their first attempt at conveying a message didn’t succeed.

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.  
You can email Yisroel at
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