Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Eavesdropper

One of the books I read this month classified interpersonal communication on five levels:

5. cliche communication (how are you?/I'm fine)
4. reporting facts about others (did you hear...?)
3. my ideas and judgments (often communicated objectively/out of context)
2. my feelings and emotions ('gut level')
1. peak communication (perfect mutual empathy - fleeting, but possible)

The book was John Powell's Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? so as you might guess, it had a bias toward pushing the reader toward levels 1 and 2. I think it was written particularly for people who were holding out on their mates and in other relationships that are meant to be very intimate. For someone like me, learning to be comfortable with more selective levels of trust and exercising discretion  might be just as important. Still, I've come away from several recent conversations wishing I'd shared more at the personal, gut level instead of retreating into reporting on interactions with others, and/or realizing that the other person didn't care about how so-and-so was doing, but wanted to be listened to, or confided in; they wanted a real one-on-one conversation with no other personalities drawn in. Hmm...

Some of this is a matter of personality. I, myself love hearing and sharing what's up with different people, making connections, passing on news... I think in analogies a lot. Someone's situation will remind me of someone else I know or something I've read. I also enjoy looking for and helping other celebrate the glimpses of other people's humor, unique personality or eccentricity. I suppose the things to watch out for are mocking or gossip.

What about with strangers? Are you sometimes tickled by people-watching, by the stories suggested by snatches of overheard conversation? I love overhearing just one line of someone else's story.

Like the athletic-looking young man who walked past me at Barnes and Noble the other day, telling his friend, "I can't stand baseball." Both of them were wearing ball caps, though. And the endearing little girl, about five, at the rec. center; she and her dad were sitting on the floor outside the locker rooms, waiting for the rest of their family to get dressed after swimming. And she was saying, "But I love Mommy, too!"


Dean Smith said...

How about when two people seem to be having a conversation but each is relating their own experience without listening to the other. Sometimes, this is most of what I hear in meetings, etc.

Marti said...

I suppose true dialogue is relatively rare, isn't it?

"Listen to all the conversations of our world between nations as well as those between couples. They are for the most part dialogues of the deaf." - Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier