The Practical Book Review of the Petersen Text
Why do not we listen better? Communicating and connecting in relationships by James Petersen is a book on interpersonal communication that seeks to enlighten the reader about the art of listening and its importance in communication. The book is generally a guideline to better listening skills given that it takes the reader through the concept of listening and why it is considerably challenging as a task to really listen to someone during a conversation. The author acknowledges the difficulty in listening, while also setting out its advantages for the reader to understand. He further offers a guide to a better listening, set out in clear steps that are easy to follow. This paper examines the book in the context of practical book review that follows the format of summary, response, reflection, and, finally, action.
In the book, the author starts out by explaining to the reader why listening does not come naturally to most people. Using the Flat Brain Theory, he states that the art of listening is a cooperation of three major organs, namely stomach, heart and head. Stomach contains feelings and emotions, heart considers possibilities with respect to what the talker is saying, and head performs logical functions involved in the situation, while also thinking about the presented issues. In this section, the author sets out to explain that people fail to listen because in most cases they let the stomach react to the talker by swelling with emotions and pushing the heart, which in turn flattens out the head and eliminates the capability of thinking and weighing the situation from logical perspective. The author here states that one needs to allow the emotions to be let out so that the person can continue with his or her normal thought processes and logical functions.
The second part of the book is about the art of listening, where the role and responsibility of a listener and a talker are laid out using gamelike features. From this layout, it can be stated that the listener plays the role of moderator given that the problems being discussed do not concern them and neither are they required to provide a solution. The listener’s role in conversation is simply to listen, understand, and provide clear interpretation to the talker so that they can open their minds up to a possible solution. In order to do it, the listener must listen and understand the talker, while also thinking clearly to establish the direction that they are going to take while leading the talker into solution for their issue.
The author states that listening is not about judging, attacking, or blaming the talker for the predicament that they are in, but rather about being a safe haven, where they can share their problems and fears and seek interpretations for possible solutions. In one way or another, the author sets out the role that a listener must play in order to have a fruitful conversation with a talker. To do it, they must be able to inspire trust in the talker so that they would feel comfortable enough to share the real details of their situation. The listener then has to pay attention to these details and ensure that they are fully aware of the circumstances in question, before they can finally interpret the problem and allow the talker to see it from a different perspective thus finding a solution to it by themselves. The listener here is not responsible for solving the problem but rather for understanding and providing the talker with an altogether new perspective so that they can find a solution for themselves.
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In addition, the author provides an insight in the context of a group, where people may need to listen to one another in order to relate well and work together effectively. He also emphasizes on the need for good listening skills in order to foster and sustain impeccable interpersonal relationships at school and beyond.
This book takes me back to my years as a young adult, when I was constantly on the defense when I spoke to my elders. Back then I felt like everyone was against me for some reason and each conversation could sound as a pending accusation. The Petersen’s text took me back to the time when I was constantly finding myself at loggerheads with authorities, including my parents, teachers, and even elder siblings and relatives. It turns out that I got into each conversation with full stomach and flat head, thus I never really understood what everyone had to say to me. It explains why I was particularly considered as a difficult individual with very little support from those that I expected to support me. Every time someone tried to correct me about something I had done, I would start explaining my own side of the story without really processing what they were trying to tell me. This often frustrated the people who were trying to make me a better person by offering me an advice and correcting my mistakes.
From reading the book, I believe that the main reason for my being labeled as a difficult person is the fact that I was incorrigible. It came about because most people believed that I was not taking instructions from others. My inability to change for the better is based on the fact that I spent all the time during conversations strategizing on how to get out of confrontation, even when the talker would be trying to help me out. The fact that I did not listen implies that more often than not I did not know what they were saying. My stomach was constantly full of frustration, fear and guilt for being wrong all the time. Now I know that if I had taken only a few moments to listen to what I was being told then I may have avoided so many confrontations that I now think were utterly unnecessary.
This book gives me an insight how to avoid having meaningless confrontations in the future by simply listening to what other people have to say rather than focusing so much on what I would like to tell them. Previously, I got into conversations with a stomach full of feelings and emotions that needed to be let out. I was unable to listen because I focused too much on what I was going to say in response to whatever I was being told. Rather than having space in my head for processing the information that I was being given by the talker, I had a flat brain syndrome that impeded my ability to understand concerns that were being relayed to me. As a result, I was branded as the kid that never listens.
Petersen’s text enlightens me on how to avoid the flat brain tango, which often creates the environment for confrontation that would otherwise be unnecessary. Rather than forcing people to tell me about their feelings, I am now able to listen and understand these feelings based on the things that they are willing to share. As opposed to using manipulation, I can now use my good listening skills to understand the interlocutor’s situation and relate to it carefully before speaking up. It helps me to avoid hurting other people when they trust me with their issues and feelings.
Another insight would be on the importance of listening to the relationships that I have with my family, friends and workmates. Listening to someone implies getting to know them and being able to relate with them in a way that they would find acceptable and relevant. It implies that listening is the key skill in looking towards better relationships all round, be they formal or casual.
As a listener, I can say that I belong to the category of ritual listeners who stay quiet for as long as the interlocutor has nothing to say but would otherwise be glad to share his or her own thoughts as soon as an opportunity presents itself. It implies that I do not really listen to the talker in my conversations but rather I wait on them to pause or ask a question so that I can jump in with my own thoughts and opinions on the matter. As a result, all the time that I spend being quiet during that conversation is spent strategizing on a comeback statement. My first plan of actions is to change what I do when I am silent during a conversation. Rather than looking for loopholes in the talker’s argument so that I can insert my own witty remarks, I will focus on what they are actually saying so that I can think about their opinion and consider the subject from their point of view. While my thoughts seem like they are the most important to me, I have learnt that good conversation is the one in which every party involved actually wins in that in the end there is an agreement in opinion.
As opposed to being defensive and seeking to establish that I am right and the talker is wrong, I intend to focus on understanding what the talker is trying to tell me and on being able to restate his or her concerns in my own words before going ahead to speak out my opinion on the subject. It is important because I mostly find myself unable to respond accurately to an argument because I have absolutely no idea what points the talker may have raised while I was absorbed in my own thoughts looking for a way out of the confrontation. It is important for me to focus on having fruitful conversations, in which everyone comes out satisfied with the quality of conversation.
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Another action that I intend to pursue after reading this book is to respect the opinion of others. When my stomach is full of emotions and feelings, I practically shut out everything that anyone else may have to tell me, just as explained by Petersen in the ‘Flat Brain Syndrome’. I tend to feel like there is nothing anyone can tell me to change my mind and that I know what is right and thus whoever disagrees with me must be wrong. Consequently, I find myself getting into so many undeserved arguments, which I could avoid by simply being more of a listener than a talker and by emptying my stomach and allowing my brain to take control. The fact that I am a competitive person who is always seeking approval by trying to prove myself right does not at all help my listening skills but with the information that I have obtained from this book, I believe I will be able to keep my insecurities in check for better communication skills in terms of listening and talking.