Communication as a Give-and-Take

By Oladapo Razaq. Oladapo is a travel photographer from Lagos, Nigeria. Please read his entry and leave your thoughts and comments below.

I agree with Mr. Covey, most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

That in itself is not too bad. People like to be heard. People want to voice their opinion, People want to share their side of the story. This is our nature, This is to be expected. And at the basic level, it can be managed. When you’re speaking, you are gauging the response. You may then attempt to restate your idea accordingly, and more to the point, it can lead to some eventual, basic understanding. Let’s call it a workable understanding, something from which a greater understanding can develop in time, with patience, with an open mind, with reflection, with further analysis, with further information, and with proper give-and-take.

This proper give-and-take might look like this: I give you a thought, and then you give me a thought. I give you a modified thought in return, and then you give me a modified thought in return. I give you yet another modified thought, and so on until some understanding is achieved because we are taking the time, out of respect, out of decency, to really listen and not just reply. We do so knowing that neither one of us will get what he or she wants completely. We compromise, finding some common ground between extremes, what Socrates called the Golden Mean.

But what I’d like to say is that too often in today’s media-saturated world, what passes for communication are sound-bites, talking-points, half-formed opinions, half-truths, sometimes even blatant falsehoods, personal agendas, media manipulation, shock videos and instant messaging, personal vendettas, and the inability to think before acting…or replying.

Sometime last month I had to meet a friend after a photoshoot. We were class mates in college and we used to be very close. I had so much to say to her and I already prepared several conversations in my head. I also needed someone to listen to some challenges I was facing and probably suggest a solution. We met later that evening and the conversation began, then O noticed, just five minutes into our conversation she was already distracted, staring at her phone, giggling every now and then. She tried to focus, turned her gaze towards me and made a mild smile. Not to add that she drops an occasional “Oh I’m sorry”…”oh wow” and some other seemingly automated similar replies, it was like she had them prepared at the tip of her tongue. I thought to myself, she gave no meaningful reply, how would she when she’s not even listening?. The evening passed slowly and we said our goodbyes, it was one sided and I considered it a waste of conversation, and I wondered if there’s anyone in this world that would try to listen to me.

Isn’t it true that some things require very careful consideration in the first place? You actually need to think things through some things. But I understood that sometimes in our daily lives, we are driven to distractions by our Smart phones, movies, music, or just simple traffic; and important decisions are never made. They are perpetually postponed. So maybe we could meet some other time, maybe we could try again, and maybe then we would communicate better.

There is not enough honest attempt at communication. There is only the triumph of one’s viewpoint at the cost of another’s. This is a world of noise. This is a world of distortion. This is a world of verbal and visual clutter. This is a world of rhetoric at its worst. This is not the world of elevated ideas. This is a world a twenty-four-hour news repeating yet another vicious-cycle of some combination of the above. This is a world of instant fame…or shame. This is a world of instant glory. This is a world of the tabloid, sensationalistic story. This is story for the sake of story. This is a world of people shouting at each other instead of listening. This is a world where a workable understanding cannot be reached because it can’t even be heard. But we need to hear each other…one word, one conversation, one reply at a time. And we need to realize that listening is an active process not a passive one. It requires conscious effort and constant reminding. And we must realize that we are all communicators: friends, colleagues, family. And we are all on the same planet together. It is in our vested interest to listen, understand, and communicate better with one another, across boundaries.

There are also strong interpersonal aspects of communication, which perhaps suffer from their own noise and make understanding and communicating difficult. Parents don’t always listen to their kids, and kids don’t always listen to their parents. Husband’s don’t always listen to their wives, and vice versa. Friends have disputes. Accusations are made. Misunderstandings arise, sometimes even over petty or trivial things that in hindsight, seem entirely regrettable. But you know how it is: once something is said, you cannot ever take it back no matter how hard you try.

Sometimes questions are not always understood or not properly posed. Even worse, some questions don’t have obvious answers, since life is often a shade of gray, an interesting parallel to Socrates’ golden mean theory. Gray and gold. Gray shades and golden means.

Complicating matters even more is that fact that we don’t even always understand ourselves, our own actions, our own motivations, our own desires, our own conflicting thoughts and impulses. We are beings with inherent contradictions.

Likewise, some conversations are about incredibly sensitive issues, whose meaning turn on incredibly subtle meanings of words, and the elusive nature of body language. Sometimes it’s how we say things that matters most. And sometimes silence speaks louder than words. Oh, there’s a paradox: silence among all that “noise.” How is that possible? But, of course, ours is a very complicated world.

Not only is listening an active process, but productive, fruitful conversation, whether at home or work, requires skill. And let’s face it, some people just simply “listen” better than others listen. It requires disciplined effort not to jump to conclusions or not to curtly “cut people off” before they have finished making their point. Perhaps this one little thing is closest to what Covey is referring to about “replying.”

But back to the interpersonal aspects. Sometimes we have a tendency to allow personal animosity to impede communication. Sometimes people reject a speaker’s words right out of hand because of rejecting him or her. Sometimes we suffer from selective hearing: that is, hearing what we merely want to hear based on our own biases and designs and ignoring what does not conform to our preconceived notions. You might even say sometimes, we don’t even have notions; we have only emotions, raw emotions, which get the better of us and cloud our judgment and the issue. I’m quite certain we’ve all been guilty of that once or twice in our lives. Sometimes, when our passions get the better of us, we pick fights in the course of a conversation, taking our frustrations out on another person or groups of people.

Take for instance the Nigerian House of Assembly, Brawling in the Nigerian House of Assembly has been a regular occurrence in the past years, and as embarrassing as that may sound in this year and age, we have civilised men seated in rows, wailing violently at the other, saying harsh words, disregarding the fact that they’re are on national TV, sometimes the house of assembly turns into a wrestling ring, with chairs flying around and our so called leaders exchanging punches in the most derogatory fashion possible, the entire conversation becoming nothing more than a verbal duel of insults, language abuse, slander, and heated rhetoric that serves no greater good. When instead, they should really be listening to the ideas being said. Sure, not all ideas are equal. Some ideas are even bad. But first they should at least listen.

Yet, let’s face it. Listening is hard work. It requires energy and makes demands on the mind and body. When we are tired, we are irritable, and irritability is never good in a conversation. Sometimes being tired is a reason for procrastination. Important decisions get postponed. And this is its own vicious cycle: always putting off thing for tomorrow. It’s always best to address things head on and immediately. But do we always?

If we could truly listen and understand each other and even ourselves, what would it feel like? Would it be like a light bulb going off in your head? Would there be a glint of recognition in your eye that the person you are communicating with would see? What would be the universal outcome of true understanding and the ability to sit down and really listen? Certainly, it would be a lot quieter place in the end.

And who knows, with all those light-bulbs going off, it might also be a much brighter place, perhaps, all because we took the time to listen and understand and not just merely reply.

102 comments on “Communication as a Give-and-Take

  1. ololade Esther on

    M always looking forward to reading ur articles because it makes me understand more about life. great work dear, keep it up

    Reply
  2. Halimah on

    I must confess, this is one of the best writing I have come across this year, it talks about one of the world’s overlooked problem but yet a very serious one. I am glad I read this! Excellent write up👌👌

    Reply
  3. Olasukanmi on

    Dear Oladapo,
    ‘Communication as a give and take’ to be candid is a very nice topic to discuss and I must applaud you for this write up and for even stating perfect examples..I took my time to read it carefully, I believe you’ll would have said more but due to the restriction to the numbers of words you can use…This write up deserves not just to win on this platform…But deserves to be the article of the year.

    Reply
  4. Shittu Abiola on

    When you achieve greatness, i never feel diiferent because it has been your usual goal. Remembered when you went for spelling bee competition, That was a good head start…

    Reply
  5. TOSIN on

    I took my time to read several articles on this site and today alone ive read quite a number , I came across this and it got me wowed not because we’re from the same country but because this article talks about our ignorance while we think we are communicating but in real sense we arent..According to Dictionary.com,to communicate means to give to another; impart; transmit…This you also discussed in your article….This is one of the best articles and youve got my vote.
    I would like to ask you how long youve been writing .Kindly reply as i would like to read some of the things youve written

    Reply
  6. Kolawole (Gaijin) on

    Wow I’ll say this best article I ever read this year
    I read some true facts which is affecting most of us in this generation,lack of listening to those around us ..which we should amend on that… Also this article encourage in another aspects.. Wish we’re getting topics like this on social media..
    A Job well-done on this article

    Reply
  7. Okanu Amarachi Hope on

    This is so accurate and truthfully written.. This is indeed is the best article written so far took my time to read them word for word.. Need I say this article deserves to be published for the world to read. This writer have said it all. Thumbs up to

    Reply
  8. 'Demola Balogun R on

    When we listen attentively, we grasp a proper understanding of whatever the speaker is saying, and in turn we are able to give accurate replies, which like you said, can lead to some eventual basic understanding. When we listen, we not only grasp a proper understanding of what the speaker is saying, we also understand the genesis of the statement. When we give someone adequate time to talk, we not only understand what the speaker is saying, we also understand ‘why’ he is saying such and the premise for such statement.

    However, as you rightly said Rasaq, ‘Listening is hard work. It requires energy and makes demands on the mind and body.’ So, why should I expend my energy on listening to what I’m not interested in? Why should I take my time to listen to someone who consistently sprouts rubbish? The world we live in is a world wherein time is of very great value, hence, expending it requires thoughtful calculation. You cannot afford to expend your time and energy on what you know is of no interest to you or what you know will serve you no purpose.

    Life is short folks!

    Reply
    • Oladapo Razaq on

      because time is of such rare value, and because in this world of saturation where seemingly every statement is given equal weight, you cannot expend your energy on what you know is of no value. And to this I add: nor should you indulge in conversation when someone willfully refuses to listen to you, especially when they cannot accept objective reality. When they cannot accept objective reality, then they are engaging in mere propaganda or worse. But of course, we are all wrong sometimes. We are all human, and to err is human. Sometimes we need to find more information. And, of course, that often means further conversation. Oh, the irony.
      So this is my response, Mr ‘Demola, when a conversation is proving to be meaningless, please end it as such. Make a better use of your precious time.
      Having said that, you should also consider that there is no knowledge that is not power, a fools words may contain truths or facts that may be of use to you in the nearest future.

      Reply
      • Odusanya Joshua on

        Mr rasaq…as far as am trying to accept the fact that this your piece is so interesting. Yet I’m still of opinion that as in individual is not every conversation that we should expend our energy on especially when the communicator is saying what does not matter to you in your present conditions, relating it to yoruba saying that…..”ebi npami oloshe nkiri”! i.e, “am famished and the soap seller is advertising “. The question is that, will soap solve my present condition of being hungry?..Capital No!.though I know am still going to need soap for my dirty clothes but the fact remains am presently hungry, and is still the same Yoruba that says” ebi O wonu K’Oro mi wo”..so no need of listening to”rubish” as Mr Balogun has rightly said. Hence life is too short to be wasting your energy on what will not solve your present conditions.

        Reply
        • Oladapo Razaq on

          Thanks for your comment Mr Joshua, however I think I need to point out to you that the purpose of my article isnt to tell when and when not to listen, the article is trying to tell the difference between listening to reply and listening to actually understand, and just as I said in my previous comment, that “rubbish” you dont want to listen could hold a tiny piece of information that might be of use to you, I think if you actually take your time to listen to that drunkard or that dumb classmate, they probably have an information that would educate you.
          The whole point of this is to make you listen and not just judge from afar.

          Reply
          • Odusanya Joshua on

            The whole point of this is to make you listen and not just judge from afar.
            Are you saying I should be wasting my time to be listening to that fool that constantly saying rubbish whenever we engaged in discussion. For instance, I knew of a guy in my old working place whenever we are discussing something meaning the guy in question will go otherwise,even on whatsapp group were we all belonged, this guy will still go there and exhibits his foolishness,we had to look for way to be ignoring him whenever we discovered his foolishness then.
            So, there is no sense listening to someone with no reasonable things to say,and as you have rightly said above that, the purpose of your article isnt to tell when and when not to listen, the article is trying to tell the difference between listening to reply and listening to actually understand. But, my question is that why will you listen to someone you’ve known for saying rubbish let alone understand what he/she is going to say.
            Mind you there is this big different btw talking and talking sense,even for future or present.

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