First off, I am blessed with good hearing. Several times, I’ve had the opportunity to work with students from Gallaudet University for the Deaf, and each time was among the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences with communication that I ever had as an adventure-educator.
One time in particular, the students arrived about an hour before their translators, limiting the range of what we could do safely before we started jumping off ledges on zip-wires. Two deaf students were doing some kind of dance-off, where one would do a move, then the other would repeat and add to it, back and forth. They could communicate with each other just fine, and I was the one with the communication challenge.
Then I did a Russian folk-dance that they had trouble with, but there’s a paired version where one person helps the other, and we did that together. We had no verbal language between us, but we could dance, we could laugh, and in those moments, there were no communication barriers. It turned out to be one of my better days.
But more recently, I was on a video chat with a colleague when my audio signal went out. I could hear and see her just fine, and she could see me, but she could not hear me. I knew the problem was the microphone on my side, so I went into text mode.
Then, for some reason, she started to do the same. So I reminded her via text that I could see and hear her just fine. But still, since she could not hear me, she started speaking a bit slower and louder as I typed my replies. Except that at that point, I now had another communication challenge because I was laughing so hard that it was hard to type.
What is it about communication that when we do not “hear” what we want, we think the solution is to change what or how we are speaking, rather than what we are listening to? And for my role as a “speaker” in this case, while I could not be heard, I was still able to focus on how to produce the intended listening for my audience that allowed us to function together.
So as a leader, what do you focus on? Are you more interested in being heard, or in producing a listening for your audience that signals more genuine communication?