Communication is what the listener does

My last post got me thinking about this even more: Communication is what the listener does. That’s what Peter Drucker told us.

We treat communication as talking, speaking, writing, emailing, posting, updating. We think of notice boards, bulletin boards, lectures, monologues, no-reply mass emails, broadcasts, multicasts and delivering messages.

So what is wrong with this? Well nothing – other than that it is at best incomplete and at worst misleading. Communication is all of the above – and much more. They are all necessary but not sufficient for communication. Image

A professor of mine told us once that his job – or for that matter job of any teacher – is first to get down to the intellectual level of his audience, the students, talk to them in a language they understand and make them ask questions. It is not easy to do so because it requires first knowing the intellectual level and capacity of those being taught and second to talk to them in a language and structure that they can absorb. A teacher talking at her intellectual level far above that of students in a class room is like a radio channel transmitting at a frequency that no one can tune to.

It is not surprising that in developed educational systems, the teachers for kids in the earliest grades are the most experienced and trained ones. To understand the child psychology and mental level and be able to engage with them in a manner that makes sense to them is complicated. However, the underlying principle of teaching is the same as what my professor told us.

Communication is what the listener does! 

To me, this is the single most powerful lever that can make our conversations, debates and meetings more effective. And when you consider the fact that communication is typically the most common behavior we do, the benefits can be immense.

Communication should be treated as persuasion, engagement, explanation and convincing. It is a transaction. It is sending of a message and acknowledgement of receipt. It is triggering of the relevant brain cells in listeners that deal with understanding – it is not merely exercising the facial muscles.

There is no use for a radio channel that no one can tune to. It’s merely wastage of electromagnetic waves.

Credits: “Communication is what the listener does” is an excellent paraphrasing of Drucker’s teachings on communication by Mark Horstman of Manager Tools. I have recommended Manager Tools to scores of professionals as a great resource for being an effective manager of knowledge workers, and one from which I have learned immensely over the past many years.


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