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Lasagna, Santa Clause, and Other Lessons in Listening and Speaking

While much of education acknowledges the need for us to focus on literacy and numeracy, not everyone realizes the paramount importance of listening and spoken language skills. For example, I remember that when my wife and I were first married we arrived at home about the same time one evening. We were both a bit worn-out, and feeling somewhat indecisive about what we should make for dinner. At some point she asked me, “Well, what do you think we should have for dinner?”

It seemed like a simple enough question. I took a few seconds, thought, and then confidently replied—“lasagna.” To my surprise, she then looked at me, lasagnapaused, and said…”no.” At that point, I thought again and with a bit less confidence offered another suggestion…”spaghetti.” Again she paused and then replied… “Nope.” Confused, I offered up one final idea. This time, though, it was in the form of a question. “Want to go out?” Her face changed, she smiled, and replied, “Sure.”

It was only afterwards as we were sitting down to enjoy our meal at the restaurant that I figured out what had happened. You see, I thought my wife was actually asking me what it was that I wanted for dinner. But what she really wanted was for me to guess what it was that she wanted for dinner.

Many such misunderstandings at home, in the community, and in the workplace can be attributed directly or indirectly to some degrees of misunderstanding and miscommunication. Sometimes the speaker is to blame. Sometimes it is the person listening. Most of the time it is a bit of both. But in nearly every situation, effective listening and oral communication make it possible for us to understand and…to be understood…

 

References

Copeland, M. (2005). Socratic circles: Fostering critical and creative thinking in middle and high school. Portland, Me: Stenhouse Publishers.

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