Observing the Other: LEAP FROG Continues, Part 7

We’re back with our series on civil discourse in this age of incivility, picking up the LEAP FROG acronym at the O.

I considered doing something around the Wizard of OG, but thought better of it. Civil discourse is, after all,  a serious subject.

I know it’s serious because there’s not been much about it that has brought even a smile to my face.  Well, maybe that cute laughing baby picture in the R is for Respect post.

Still, you know this is serious.

My concern around the unprecedented (in my lifetime) level of incivility we are currently experiencing is that we need those folks if we are ever going to end the divide.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they’d all just admit their mistake, show us their remorse, and we’d all sing Kumbaya together.

That ain’t gonna happen.  And still, we need them.   Why?

Because they too are Americans.
Because they are still our brothers and sisters.
Because they vote.

To briefly summarize for the newbies among us.  LEAP FROG is just the convenient acronym I coined to try and organize the conversation we’re having around civil discourse.  We began in February with a look back at Cicero and his “civil society.”

And our desire to live in a civil society, a good society, is our motivation for engaging in civil discourse.

Today, it’s time for LEAP FROG: Part 7

O is for Observe

When we talk about having a conversation — a civil discourse — with someone, we’re also talking about making a connection. We are, after all, social animals.

How do you know your listener is paying attention to you? How do you know the two of you are connecting? What are the signs?

Think about this the next time you have a conversation with someone you know well.  How do you know you’re being heard?  Think of it as practice. Start with your spouse (as I did).

Here’s what I noticed during our morning conversations over caffeine.

I believed he was NOT listening when:

  • He changed the subject in the middle of my sentence.
  • He failed to ask any follow up questions to whatever I was saying.
  • I found it hard to make eye contact.

And, I felt heard when:

  • I found it easy to make eye contact while I was talking.
  • He asked follow up questions, as though was interested in additional information, as though he was really interested in what I had to say.
  • He paraphrased occasionally to make sure he’d understood me correctly.

With other listeners, those I didn’t know so well, I noticed particular mannerisms in addition to the behaviors above.

  • They leaned forward, as though to catch every word.
  • They looked directly at me. Eye contact, while not sustained, was easy and comfortable.
  • They listened without interruption. At least I never felt interrupted.
  • They asked clarifying questions.

This is all harkening back to the post on L is for Listen, actually called Is Civil Discourse Dead? LEAP FROG Part 1: The L

Saturday Evening Post June 28, 1919

How about you? How do you know you are being heard? Do you have anything to add?  

Next week: Our final post in the LEAP FROG series: G is for ??? (stay tuned)

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25 Responses

  1. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    Observation is essential, but O is also for Oblige. This may take two forms by creating an obligation for the recipient party and by being co-operative and obliging in a way that makes the interaction fruitful and worthwhile.
    The latter has the benefit of demonstrating that one Respects and is paying attention as your proposition above asks
    I find it fascinating how all these different elements of LEAP FROG bind together, each supporting the others in a way that makes a significant difference to the whole concept of Civil Discourse.

    This has been another great post, very thought provoking.

  2. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I think Ian makes a good point. I was thinking about this in terms of a phone call. When you can’t see the person’s face or body language, how do you know you’re being heard? I think the occasional paraphrasing of thoughts and asking questions signals it. ( Even though I know I’m often multi-tasking when talking on the phone and the other person is, too. ) 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Good point, Merril. Add to that the problems with email correspondence, where you don’t even get tone of voice. That’s why this entire civil discourse series has assumed it’s a face to face dyad: two people committed to learn from each other.

      It’s also why, when Woody and I met on an email discussion list, I insisted we meet face to face after about two months. I had to know what “this” was (as I called whatever it was that was happening). But that’s a post for another day. 🙂

  3. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Body language is a true test of whether one is being heard in fact to face encounters. True confession: Conversations in marriage are the ultimate test. “Marian, stop doing stuff when Cliff is talking!” says my conscience. Let’s just say I’m practicing to do better.

    My “O” contribution: “Oh, my!”

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Body language does indeed say much, Marian. Now I’m curious what forms of that body language you use to know the other is really listening. And, I trust Cliff has the same inner voice?

      • Marian Beaman
        | Reply

        Front facing, a lot of eye contact . . . well, at least 80% of the time. Um, maybe less.

        We are heading toward the 50 year milestone, so yes, Cliff is on board with this.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Is that like Oy vey?

      Congrats on reaching 50 years together. Not many can say that.

  4. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — When I’m in a conversation, I look at the other person and take in what they’re saying. Giving them visual clues, I utilize soft expressions of agreement—nod my head, smile, softly say “uh-huh”—to let them know that I’m listening.

    On page 141 of NOTE TO SELF I wrote:

    “Hearing and listening are vastly different. One of the benchmarks of great communicators is their ability to listen not just to what’s being said, but to what’s NOT being said as well. They listen between the lines.

    “HEARING IS PASSIVE. We hear dogs bark, tires squeal, trash cans being rolled out to the curb on garbage pickup day, birds chirp, a train whistle wail mournfully, church bells ring, and the furnace rumble when it comes to life in the morning. In a conversation, people who are hearing instead of listening are oftentimes busy formulating their own response.

    “LISTENING IS ACTIVE. It’s something we invite in. When we invest in something, we typically expect a return. When we invest in listening, the dividend is an expanded capacity for compassion.”

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      “When we invest in listening, the dividend is an expanded capacity for compassion.” Thanks for that, Laurie, and for making the distinction between listening and hearing. And also I’m glad to read “what’s NOT being said as well.” Hence one impetus for those follow up questions.

  5. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    A good addition to the study, Janet. One thing I might add relates to multi-tasking, which is particularly challenging on the home front, with our spouses and kids, etc. There’s always so much to do, it seems, often at the same time, and it’s a good sign that someone may not be paying close attention when they’re trying to do other things while talking to you. I know I personally have a hard time listening when I’m trying to do something else, as is unfortunately often the case at home. Anyway, I think we’d all do well if we could put down what we’re doing and really concentrate on being in the moment when we’re talking with each other about matters of substance. Or, if that’s not possible, putting off the conversation until we’re able to, in a polite sort of way — i.e., “I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this, but am in the middle of X right now, and am afraid I may not be able to give you my full attention. Can you give me ten minutes?” — or something along those lines.

    • Ian Mathie
      | Reply

      Described like this, Tim, I see Janet’s O turning into OBSTRUCTION, which is hardly a positive contribution to civil discourse. Anyone who insists on multi tasking whilst talking on the pone just can’t be giving proper attention to the conversation. That is both rude and obstructive, so I wouldn’t find it acceptable. A bit of basic courtesy is all that’s required and giving due attention to the other person is what that amounts to. I don’t think being busy is a good enough excuse, so iIf someone can’t spare the time to listen they should politely request to take a pause and continue when they can spare the time. So the frog should leap off the lily pad and try again later.

      • Tim Fearnside
        | Reply

        I don’t disagree, Ian, although I don’t always follow my own advice — particularly at home. Being married with two daughters, finding quiet times to focus on substantive conversation, without interruption or distraction, is difficult — harder than it should be, really. ‘Not necessarily an excuse, but a description of a challenge. But it’s probably not the best example, since conversations with my wife, fortunately, tend to be civil, and aren’t really of the sort that Janet is addressing in this series, I don’t think — and in any event, being present in a conversation without distraction is a suggestion that would probably better be included in a letter already covered, such as “L” for “listening, or perhaps “R” for respect. Cheers! – T

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          This raises for me the question of whether or not the body language that we use to tell if we’re connecting (being heard or listened to) with spouses and good friends is the same as it’d be with strangers and people we know we disagree with. I’m going to hypothesize that it would be different. But I’m not sure just how. I need to sit and talk to more strangers, I guess. 🙂

        • Ian Mathie
          | Reply

          This is where shared family meals become so important. All too often in modern life we’re rushing around trying to get fed and on with something else. Making a specific time each week, like Sunday lunch, or even daily, like Janet’s after breakfast sessions with Woody, goes a long way to overcoming this problem (Overcoming obstacles – there’s another O) and makes civil discourse so much easier.
          With two daughters you have your work cut out, but maybe they can suggest a measure that would help. All you have to do is convince them of the need and vale it offers.
          Good luck!

      • Janet Givens
        | Reply

        Obstruction? I don’t see it that way, Ian. I see more of a reality check. Harkens back to the A for Asses. If it’s not a good time, it’s just not a good time. Practical, among others. No?

        • Ian Mathie
          | Reply

          You’re being very generous, Janet, to anyone who can’t be bothered to give you their full attention. If they only half listen, because they’re distracted by something else, how does that help? Even tying your shoe laces can be a distraction that causes you to miss something important. I know, I’ve made that mistake before! 🙂

          • Janet Givens

            Ian. I believe our difference of opinion here is anchored in our assumptions about the Other’s motivation. I’m not assuming they “can’t be bothered.” I’m assuming I am, at that moment, not the most important thing in front of them. We all must make choices, discriminate if you will. I choose to give the other the benefit of the doubt. Like this morning. Woody and I never had our daily sit down I just announced because he had to run to the store for compost for our gardener. So, I sat alone with my second cup of tea. But I certainly never assumed Woody couldn’t be bothered with me. Capeche?

          • Ian Mathie

            Sure I understand, but declining the invitation to interact is different from not giving someone your full attention., and it leaves the door open fr later.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh Tim, carving out that time is vital, I’ve found. Woody and I have committing to sitting together, face to face, every morning after we’ve both had our breakfast and while I’m enjoying my second cup of tea. The idea is to make sure our schedules are synced for the day and to bring up whatever is on our mind. Some days it lasts ten minutes; some days, an hour or more. I’ve found with his fading hearing (despite aids) and his ADD, it’s the ONLY way I have of making sure we both hear each other (or listen to each other, in Laurie’s words). I tried something like this back when my kids were growing up but it never worked; perhaps that’s one reason that that marriage didn’t last. FYI, those three points I used in this post came directly from a few days of paying close attention to how I felt during these morning conversations. And why.

      Thanks for posting. Here’s hoping you find a special time that’ll work for you and the Mrs. (some folks call it date night).

      • Tim Fearnside
        | Reply

        Thanks, Janet (and also Ian, for your thoughts and suggestions). I agree with what you say here. I think the key word is “committing.” Without that, it will never happen, not with the degree of seeming chaos in our lives. Of course, we bring some of that on, too, I think. Busy-ness can become its own compulsion in a way — something we’re particularly good (or bad) at here in the U.S., I think. We’re also similarly hyper distracted, it seems — both by the absurd “busy-ness” of our lives, but also our devices, social media, and the like. The ability to focus and be present in the moment has become something of a lost art. And yes – we’re overdue for a date night!

        • Ian Mathie
          | Reply

          Your mention of our general busy-ness and r devices like social media brings up another important factor, Tim. I’m not particularly competent with all this electronic stuff. The fact that I once flew $30million fighter planes and am now banjaxed by a $25 computer probably says a lot but, of course, we didn’t have computers in our planes in those days and the pilot had to attend to the details himself .( I say ‘himself’ as sadly there were very few female pilots in operational roles l 45 years ago, but things have changed). Certain levels of multi-tasking became almost automatic, but they didn’t distract from concentration on interactive discourse with other crew members and controllers. Indeed they supported it.

          Today, however, social media has become a superficial filter to so many of our activities. We skip and skimp a lot of the detail and just hope other people either don’t notice or don’t care. So much is done to a lower standard that this behaviour has become the norm for many people, and we’re more likely to dash off an abbreviated e-mail or tweet than to sit down and craft a proper letter, written by hand with a fountain pen.

          It’s for this reason that I use these electronic thingys less and less these days, but I still write daily with the fountain pen that has served me for the past 64 years, and I have a quill on my desk that continues to work well.

          I hope you and your daughters find time to connect fully and effectively. Good luck! :).

  6. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    Putting what you are doing aside to truly listen to what someone is saying is truly a gift for both the listener and the speaker. Otherwise there is no connection and the speaker feels abandoned while the listener doesn’t learn anything the other person or himself.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes indeed, Joan. Great point. I too see the ability to truly listen to that “Other”
      — and to see it as a gift we can offer — is a critical piece in making the conversation a “success.” And success, in this context, would be a conversation that continues until some degree of understanding is achieved, some level of connection is achieved, or (at least) some mutual agreement to continue at some point in the future. Thank you for the reminder.

  7. […] Observing the Other: LEAP FROG Continues, Part 7 […]

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