Getting an earful on communications
Marcie Lightwood, from the Institute for Jewish - Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College, led a workshop on developing good listening skills at the South Side branch of the Bethlehem Public Library recently. Janine Santoro, from branch adult services, said she felt there was a need in the community to address the current polarized political climate. “No one is listening to anybody,” she lamented.
Lightwood spoke about the difference between debate, discussion, and dialogue. “Discussion is not wrong, debate is not wrong, dialogue is what we want to get into.” she said of the evening’s program.
With debate, winning is the goal with an implied conclusion, Lightwood explained. Discussion is conducted with the primary goal of increasing clarity and understanding of an issue that can be open or close-ended. Dialogue, on the other hand, is about finding common ground and remains open-ended.
She asked each attendant to remember a friend or family member that had been a good listener and wrote down on a chalk board the behaviors that each person exhibited. The list contained, being quiet, not distracted, gestures like nodding, and restating what was said. When asked “How did you feel?” by Lightwood, the responses included feeling respected, important, valued, comforted, and that “your opinion mattered.”
Lightwood introduced the “Cultural Iceberg” which is divided into “surface culture” and “deep culture.” The surface culture includes easy and friendly identifiers like ethnic food, music, dances, fashion, literature, arts and language. Deep culture, what goes on below the surface, is what makes communication more difficult, with different meanings for body language, eye contact, gestures or touching. Notions of courtesy and manners vary greatly in regards to cleanliness, modesty, concepts of fairness and justice, as well as, roles related to age, gender, class and family. Attitudes toward elders, adolescents and animals and approaches to religion, courtship and marriage can be hard to comprehend between diverse groups and individuals. “This deep culture part is where we have misunderstandings and conflict,” said Lightwood. “We are taught that our way is the right way. If you don’t do it that way, you are wrong,” she added.
The “Building Blocks of Dialogue,” to achieve greater communication with others, according to Lightwood are:
Suspending judgments * Do not act defensive or offensive.
Deep listening * Provide eye contact, nod occasionally, and keep your mouth shut.
Reflection and inquiry * Ask questions.
Identifying assumptions * Explain experiences that influence your opinion.
With a background in social work, Lightwood explained that she would teach these skills to parents to enable them to better talk with their children.
“When a listener’s responses convey non-acceptance of a speaker’s feelings, or the desire to change the speaker, a lack of trust, or a sense that the speaker is inferior, at fault, or being bad, communication blocks will occur,” said Lightwood.
This was just one of many free events scheduled for children and adults at the Southside branch. Upcoming programs include, building wealth with modest investments, computer workshops, homework help, book sale, toddler play dates and more.
For information, visit bapl.org/locations/south-side-location or call (610) 867-7852.