The Triton


Crew Coach: Not listening biggest part of communication breakdown


Crew Coach: by Capt. Rob Gannon

Good communication – healthy communication – is so important to relationships, both professional and personal, yet it remains elusive and a struggle for many. It’s complex, this art of communicating well, but let’s see if we can shine a light on a few factors that can hinder, and also help, the process.

Let me start by saying this is face-to-face, verbal communicating I’m talking about – not communication via phone or text or any electronic means. That’s a whole other area that I won’t tackle here. This is about when two people approach each other for a conversation, an exchange of information in the course of a working day.

A big consideration here that many of us don’t stop to think about is our own or the other person’s state of mind going into the exchange, before the first word is spoken. When the subject is a little difficult or uncomfortable, the first words, if delivered poorly, can rock the boat before we’ve left the dock.

It can be beneficial to check in with ourselves to make sure we’re on an even keel and prepared to speak and listen without being overtaken by emotions or assumptions. Effective delivery of thoughts is a skill, and we can get better at it if we want to.

On the flip side, effective listening – real listening – is also a skill that is necessary for good communication. Whenever we have an exchange and we don’t feel that the other person is even listening, it usually doesn’t feel good and probably doesn’t get the results we were looking for.

Let’s say someone who is working on a yacht goes to the captain or their supervisor with an issue, and afterward that person feels as though they weren’t even heard. It feels bad and is totally unproductive.

One thing we can do with the non-listener is just get them to acknowledge what we’ve said. Demonstrate that this conversation is meaningful, and don’t be afraid to do so.

In their book, “Messages: The Communication Skills Book,” Matthew Mckay and Martha Davis, both of whom hold doctorates, list nine blocks to listening. I’ll just point out four of them.

Comparing. This is when we express an experience or situation of ours and the semi-listener goes right into their own experience, usually to top ours, and does not acknowledge ours at all.

Judging. This is when someone thinks they know what we really mean,  when those aren’t the words we’ve stated. We can be labeled with an attitude here.

Being right. This is when someone is so intent on being right, they don’t even want to hear another side or point of view.

Derailing. This is when we begin a conversation and, because it makes the semi-listener a little uncomfortable or they don’t know much about the subject, they just derail the conversation and try to move it to another area.

Any of these sound familiar? They do to me; I think I’ve come across all four. As I said before, I believe we must let the non- or semi-listeners know that we don’t feel like we are being heard.

Use a calm but firm manner to get the following message across: “I’m trying to communicate with you and you don’t appear to be listening. Can you, please, just give me full attention here? I’d really appreciate it.”

Sometimes when someone is not ready to listen, they will say it’s not a good time right now. OK, try to respect that. But also get an answer as to when a good time would be. Once again, I believe it’s important to express that.

There are always things in the professional environment or our personal lives that need to be dealt with, and polishing the skills to make that conversation flow is certainly a worthwhile endeavor.

Communication can be complicated, but it’s usually because it gets wrapped up in emotions and assumptions. All we can do is be clear, honest, straightforward and respectful in our approach, and then be ready and willing to listen. Really listen.

Enjoy the voyage.

Capt. Rob Gannon is a 30-year licensed captain, and a certified life and wellness coach ( Comments are welcome below.

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