Ron Scollon and Suzie Wong Scollon  

Responsive Communication: Patterns for Making Sense


Tools for responsive communication

We have developed the handbook Responsive Communication over a period of six years in workshops and training seminars for businesses, governmental agencies and educational organizations. Again and again, we found our clients having the same problems. Originally the problems appeared to be as different as the stresses caused by structural reorganization, the conflicts caused by ethnic and cultural differences in employees, the increased entry of women into positions of authority, the mid-life transitions of managers and employees, or the introduction of such high technology as computers and other electronic equipment into an organization.

When we analyzed these very different problems with our clients we found that difficulties in communication were at the heart of all of them. This is not to say that there are not other serious issues to be dealt with. But what we have found is that in our society we are not very good listeners.

Responsive Communication distills the essential communication patterns you need in order to become a better listener. These 50 patterns will help you to restructure communication to increase your ability to respond to others. Listening is the key to responsive communication. 

Responsive Communication is not a set of rules; it is a set of tools. That means that it is always necessary to pick the right tool for the occasion. For example, we emphasize the need to avoid controlling others in most situations. That doesn't mean that you should never control others. It means that you should only exercise your control when it is right and appropriate. And then you should not shirk your responsiblity because of some idea of false democracy. The trick is to be able to pick the right tools for the right occasions. 

Our research and the research of many others in fields as diverse as management, the psychology of stress, linguistics, and education leads us to strongly believe that many of our current social, political, and economic crises come from our inability to listen to others. We are not getting the feedback we need from others. Both experience and research tell us that in almost all cases it is more productive to understand others than to try to control them. And understanding others comes more through listening than through speaking.

We often forget that communication cannot be reversed. You can never take your words back or undo the initial effect. You can only add to it. Most of our present habits of communication are just good money after bad. We are talking only to make up for the unintended effects of earlier mistakes in communication. We believe that taking more care in the first place with what we say can short circuit this almost endless vicious cycle.

Every effective communication is a delicate balance between showing respect for others by including them and showing respect for others by not imposing on them. Overemphasizing our human likenesses we forget to respect our human differences. Or overemphasizing our human differences we forget our human likenesses. Neither can be emphasized to the neglect of the other.

Good communication is not necessarily being nice, it is being clear; good communication may lead as easily to recognition of profound disagreement as to agreement. The point is to accept the responsibility for being clear and the responsibility for allowing others to disagree.

Actions speak louder than words. Every communication shows people what you think about your relationship with them at the same time as you and they are expressing your ideas. If the relationship contradicts the ideas, it will be the relationship that will be communicated.

It is always valuable to learn what others think but it is only sometimes valuable to have others know what you think. This does not mean that you should be devious in what you say about what you think. It just means you should spend more time listening to others. It is simple logic that if you are listening to them you cannot at the same time be speaking. Good communication is knowing when to quit speaking and start listening.


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