Some basic points about speaking and listening

  • Virtually all speech is ambiguous or subject to misinterpretation. This is especially true for interpersonal speech.
  • Virtually all listening is hazy, leading to frequent misinterpretation. This is especially true for interpersonal listening.

Therefore, a major part of interpersonal conversation should involve clearing up misinterpretations that stem from speaking and/or listening mistakes.

It could be argued that clearing up such misinterpretations is a waste of time; that it is inefficient. In some practical situations, this is true. But in many/most situations it is a very efficient use of interpersonal time. If you don’t care about the person you are speaking with, there is not much point in clearing up misinterpretations. But if you do care about them and they about you, it is a wonderful use of time. What could be more interesting than discussing how you listen and speak to each other?

I believe that what we now call “personality” should not be defined in terms of largely permanent traits (the Big Five) but rather in terms of how we deal with speaking and listening mistakes in our interpersonal relationships. I say this because when you deal with these mistakes, your sense of who you are will change. Your behaviors and feelings will change because you will discover that much of what you thought you were was based on misunderstanding what you were hearing and how you were being heard.

From my practice of FIML, I have become deeply aware of how common speaking and listening mistakes are between people. Five or six of them in an hour of conversation is not uncommon. Since most of us have no idea how to identify and correct these mistakes, we use silence, avoidance, fake agreeableness, conventional behaviors, and so on to deal with them. But that way lies disaster because mistakes very often compound and cause even more problems. Not fixing them is like not fixing termites in your foundation.

Why is all of this not clear to everyone in the world? I do wonder. What could be more obvious than the irrefutable fact that we often speak imprecisely and listen carelessly and that even when we are precise and careful we still make many mistakes in understanding each other? How can it be that no one has figured out what to do about that (besides the dodgy stuff mentioned above)?

Sometimes I wonder why the ancient Greeks didn’t figure this out. They talked a lot but no one ever figured out how to talk well? I think the reason they didn’t is their society was hierarchical and so the hierarchical paradigm ruled even the speech of philosophers. In a hierarchy, the top dog is usually treated as if they are always right, though of course they are often wrong.

If you want to correct the inevitable misunderstandings that have occurred and will continue to occur between you and your SO or closest friend, do FIML. There is no other way to correct them. You have to use a technique that catches the mistakes as soon as they happen and corrects them quickly. If you can’t figure out how to do FIML from this site, send me an email and I will do what I can to help. FIML can be difficult to learn, but only because virtually all of our speaking and listening habits point away from it. Once you understand the deep significance of interpersonal communication mistakes and how to fix them, you will find FIML practice rewarding, efficient, and most interesting.

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