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The President Has a Banana

by Nathaniel Bluedorn

We recently received a letter from one of our readers.

“My son walked into the room one day and caught the tail end of a conversation between my two older children. Just like the man in your book, The Fallacy Detective, he jumped into the middle of the conversation without listening to find out what they were talking about. He thought that they were saying something about the President and a banana. I have noticed that this is very common, where people don't listen very well and totally misunderstand what you are saying. We now call this the "President has a banana" fallacy. If someone jumps into the middle of a discussion who obviously hasn't been listening, we all just say "The President has a banana" to let them know that they don't have a clue about what was being said.” -- Anne

It is easy for us to think so much about what we can add to a conversation, what our opinions are, and who should hear them, that we forget the most important part of communication – listening.

If we never take time to listen to others, we 1) will not understand what other people think, and 2) will not get our ideas across to others. In this article, we will give you four ideas which may help you to be a better listener.

Act like you are listening

A good listener acts like he is listening. This is more than keeping eye contact and saying a periodic “uh-huh.”

Martha: I’m thinking that, for our wedding, we should have all the decorations done in pink and green.

Frank: Uh-huh.

Martha: And make all the food organic so that everybody can eat it. You know how my aunt Vera says she is “chem . . .

Frank: Uh-huh.

Martha: . . . ically sensitive?” Well, I thought organic vegetables would be good. . . I wish you would stop staring at me like that. You look like a zombie.

Frank: Uh-huh.

With only a small amount of practice, anybody can learn to keep eye contact and to say a periodic “uh-huh” to a very boring speaker. While eye contact and verbal affirmation is a good idea, a better way to show that you are listening would be to repeat back what the speaker says, and perhaps ask a question or two.

Frank: So, you think pink and green for decorations, and only organic vegetables. Are you sure all the guests would be happy with only vegetables? What about the cake?

Martha: Oh, you were listening?!

Let them finish

A good listener allows the speaker to finish before he begins to talk. A good listener is not quick to give advice or judgment.

Son: Dad, I’m having trouble with my money. . .

Dad: Son, money is a very tricky thing. But, it has been my motto, in matters of money making, that to make three dollars and spend four leads to bankruptcy. But to make three dollars and spend only two, that leads to wealth.

This Dad is so eager to impart his experience and wisdom that he is not taking the time to find out what his son’s problem with money really is. A good listener will try to find out more by asking questions.

Dad: Are you having trouble making money, or losing it?

Son: More with losing it. You see, there is this neighbor kid who keeps beating me up and stealing my money.

Make sure you have heard everything the speaker has to say before you offer an opinion or give advice. A good listener will wait until the speaker is finished, then ask questions to make sure he understands everything correctly.

Work to find out what they are saying

Clarence: I believe very firmly that a casual attitude toward human responsibilities has been the effect of an over indulgence in sedate and visual behavior centered on objects of dubious meaning. This, of course, is in reference to Plutocratic views of thought regarding amusement. I believe our digression in this area is exponential.

Frank: Hmm. What do you mean by “objects of dubious meaning?” . . .

[Much later.]

Frank: So, what you are basically saying is that you think we have been watching too many movies lately?

Clarence: I guess you could put it that way.

Oftentimes, people are not very good at expressing their ideas to others. They explain things to you so they can sort it out in their own minds. As a listener, it is our job to be patient and to help them to figure out what they are saying. This is often done by asking questions.

Be careful what you say

Our last point is more about speaking than about listening. A good listener will not say to someone what he wants to say, but will say what he thinks they are able to hear.

Martha: I hate you, and this wedding is going to turn out a disaster because the food won’t be right, and it’s all because of you!

Frank could tell Martha that her idea of only feeding the wedding guests vegetables, and of making the wedding cake out of cauliflower, is causing a lot of stress and will end in a total disaster. However Frank suspects that Martha is not ready to accept this.

Frank: Perhaps you are becoming stressed because of all the planning required to make this wedding. Maybe if you let somebody else take care of the cake, that would make you feel better.

Frank thinks that if Martha will give up one of her radical wedding ideas, she might later see the other things she is being unreasonable about.

Being a good listener is more than just hearing what somebody is saying. Listening, and truly understanding, can at times be very difficult. Good listening takes a lot of patience, and a little humility.

First appeared in Homeschooling Today magazine.

Copyright January 02, 2005, all rights reserved. 11890 views


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