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Improve Your Communication: Use Earplugs!

Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation by Dan Simon

(written by Kees van Eijk) In October 2014, I attended Joseph P. Folger’s training ‘Responding effectively to workplace conflicts’ in the Netherlands. As part of the training we shared experiences on communication with others. My own insights on communication have a somewhat strange source that lead to a rather strange advice: “Improve your communication: Use earplugs!”

“You don’t listen to me anymore!” With this classical phrase my spouse made clear that there was something wrong with me. So I went to an audiologist and my partner was right: my ears were not as good as they used to be. I was diagnosed with a hearing impairment.

Since then I have gained a lot of respect for our superb biological senses. I’m wearing state-of-the-art hearing aid equipment in both ears, but I can assure you: the quality is rather low compared to the biophysical techniques that operate our healthy ears.

Now, many people will consider a hearing disability a serious handicap. Due to the difficulties in everyday communication you can become suspicious, self absorbed or even socially disconnected. Despite these worrying outlooks, I found out that having a hearing impairment also provides some remarkable advantages:

Less hearing improves concentration. Chit-chat and words that are not spoken directly to me become a calming murmur. They are therefore far less distracting and help me to concentrate on the person I’m having a conversation with.

Less hearing enhances creativity and curiosity. Misheard words regularly lead to funny situations or even amazing out-of-the-box ideas. Imagine hearing ‘fishing gear’ instead of ‘fiscal year’ or ‘remorse’ instead of ‘divorce’. These unexpected surprises in a conversation keep me open to new ideas and permanently curious.

Less hearing stimulates attention. I’m used to the fact that I do not immediately understand what someone is saying. Therefore listening with full attention, summarizing and verifying has become a second nature and a prerequisite for even the simplest communication.

Now concentration, curiosity and attention are desirable qualities in their own right. But joined together they become the base for an even more noble quality: attentiveness. It is this attentiveness that builds connections and prohibits self-absorption.

You see, attentiveness comes with a fair amount of openness to the other person. And openness prohibits self- absorption. The two just don’t go together and keep one another in check. Hence, as long as I’m connected to the other, no defensive or suspicious thoughts appear. But as soon as my concentration, curiosity or attention wavers and even one ego-centered thought enters my mind, the conversation immediately changes into the murmur I’m so used to. And all mental connections with my conversant seem to disengage.

It started as a communication problem between my spouse and me. But my hearing impairment has remarkably become the most important instrument in my communication toolbox. So for those who are happily enjoying their healthy ear-senses: if you want to improve your communication, try using earplugs!

Guest blogger, Kees van Eijk supports human interaction by mapping thoughts, ideas, and emotions. He a registered mediator and team facilitator working in the Netherlands.


Dan Simon

Dan is a leader in the field of transformative mediation. He is the author of the chapter on divorce mediation in the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation's ("ISCT") TRANSFORMATIVE MEDIATION SOURCEBOOK. He is a Past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association's Alternative Dispute Resolution Section. He served… MORE >

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