Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Relationships, listening, conflict (and an actor) in science & communication

For the past five or so years, I've been writing and speaking extensively about the value of relational work, including deep listening, in science and communication. It's so heartening to see others joining that chorus. Alan Alda (yes, that Alan Alda), who is now a visiting professor at a science communication center named after him at Stony Brook University, has a beautiful reflection on his work teaching scientists to communicate more effectively. In an interview in The Atlantic with Jessica Lahey, he says:
"We try to help them see that relationships, and how we listen to each other as we form those relationships, is everything. Listening is what lets things happen— whether that’s on stage, or in the classroom. Listening—really listening—to another person, even when you don’t agree with them, can feel dangerous, as if you are making yourself vulnerable to that other person."
That quote echoes one from a paper I wrote a few years back, which said:
“In truly engaged relationships, listening, with the willingness to be changed by what is heard, becomes an equally, if not more, significant part of the communication process.” 
The focus of that paper was really to bring the relational element of communication into sharper focus and to lay out some of the tools and practices that can help in engaging more deeply. I love seeing that the experts in the field, the ones that are out there every day teaching this stuff, are taking relationship on in a real way.

One arena that I still think needs more exploration has to do with conflict. It's just one of the things that comes with relationships, and while some people really love it and others really hate it, cultivating a comfort with it is a integral part of relational work. I ended that 2012 paper with words that still ring true for me:
"The more we understand about the value of engagement, the more beneficial it becomes to cultivate the ability to listen and to work with the often conflicting emotions that arise when we relate with people on a meaningful level."
We live in a time when conflict surrounds us, and while many react to that with a desire to squelch it, many others recognize that the lack of obvious conflict has not been because it didn't exist, but because it was tamped down and hidden. I've had to work hard to be more comfortable with conflict, to believe and, really, to experience the fact that engaging with it is part and parcel of deeply relating with others. I am hoping that as relational work takes a stronger foothold in the sciences, we will also begin to engage more deeply with conflict, not as a flame to be fanned nor suffocated, but as a resource.

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  1. As a communication student I also believe active listening or deep engagement in conversation can help us to better understand the topic of discussion more clearly. The mass become desperate to listen the verdict from the court or the speech of a president or a political head or the songs from their favourite singer but in common practice not many people listen to each other. To engage in conversation properly the suitable atmosphere is required. When one knows clearly how s/he is going to be benefitted being an active listener, then the degree of engagement can be greater.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Santosh. I agree with you completely!

  2. I thought haven’t read such distinctive material anywhere else on-line.relationship questions