What is the most important part of communication?

For most people, it seems as it is talking. And in a lot of cases, it is that the talking in itself is completely pointless.

The best example is small talk. Here it is not so important what is said and if the said is true. Small Talk aims at saying things just for the sake of saying them. Kenya is a great example. Everywhere you go, you get the question “Habari?”, “Sasa?”. Expected answers are “Mzuri” or “Poa”. Saying how you are actually doing if it slightly varies from the mentioned is almost sacrilegious.

Personally, I hate small talk. I see no point in it. Asking questions without caring what the answer is? That’s a waste of breath and my time. I always imagine myself when another random person greets me with “How are you?”, to just go ahead and actually telling them what I feel, while watching them shrivel, all the while wishing they could just sink into the ground and be faaaar away from me. Now that I am writing about it… I should do it. Maybe that teaches people a lesson – even though I highly doubt that it would change habits that fast. More likely – word will get out that there is a crazy person around taking gibberish and way too much.

Nevertheless, the underlying problem is not the asking of how someone is doing, but more the unwillingness to listen to what that person has to say. Let’s be honest, you don’t want to hear about shitty days and challenging work situations. Sadly, not listening is not just a thing when it comes to small talk, but a general sickness to be found everywhere and in every context. It makes you wonder if answering questions or having honest conversations make sense.

My favourite example for not listening are Uber drivers. I know they get a lot of bashing in general, but they are not innocent in the impression people have about them. There are only two types of Uber drivers anyways. Either you’re lucky and your driver is amazing, or and that happens more often, he is a ‘pumbavu’. Giving instructions to your whereabouts to arrange the pick-up is in 30% of all cases as useless as jumping up and down and hoping the driver finds his way through ground vibration.

But giving directions is not the only thing that doesn’t work when it comes to communication.

At my work, we give regular training for our clients. Therefore we employed a trainer, who is responsible for most of the content. I myself participate once in a while as well. It is nerve wrecking. I sometimes feel my tongue is a sticky, fluffy, hairy thing in my mouth after explaining the same thing for the third time. You might say, that depends on the content we are training it can be necessary to repeat – I agree – let me give you an example though:

The trainer and I love riddles as icebreakers. They spur the brain and in a lot of cases inspire laughter. But they require careful listening and that is what never really works. No matter if we write it on a PowerPoint presentation or not, the moment we start telling the riddle we are doomed to repetition. May it be simple one-liners or a whole paragraph. Our trainees tend to do everything but focusing on the said. While our ears are bleeding from listening, our trainees still wear the cap of the innocent and fresh.

Reasons for not listening are manifold – phones, sexy girls or boys next to you, an interesting lunch stain on your shirt or the simple belief, that you are smart enough to grasp the whole content without actively listening to it all.

Listening is an essential part in all aspects of life. If you don’t listen to your friends, family, or partner your relationships will suffer. If you don’t listen at work to your colleagues or even worse your supervisor your performance will suffer. If you are in a training and you don’t listen you obviously suffer as you are leaving with less information than you should. If you don’t listen to directions you will end up in the wrong area, no matter if you are an Uber driver or not. Listening is not just about you. It is also about the person talking. Basic respect requires you to listen. That is the minimum we can give each other on a daily basis.

We all want to be heard, and we all have something to say, but that is all pointless if there is no one, who cares enough. It makes people desperate and sad. Listening to someone is what you can give without investing much. I would love to see more people listen to each other and if you don’t care, don’t ask.

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