Communication – The Power to Connect or Divide
The single most important skill that we require as we journey through life is the art of communication. Our relationship with family, friends and colleagues depends on how we communicate. Effective communication is the foundation of strong relationships with others, at home, socially, in education and in the workplace. When we speak about good communication we generally refer to our ability to speak clearly, fluently and precisely. This is but one part of communication. Communication is made up of three different but interrelated skills; listening, speaking and non-verbal expression.
We often confuse hearing with listening. The two are different, though both are done with our ears. Hearing is a natural function of the ear which involves the reception of sound. It is one of our senses. Listening however requires the presence of mind. The Qur’an says: “Certainly in that are lessons for those who lend and ear with presence of mind.” (50:37) Lending an ear with absence of mind is hearing, doing so with presence of mind is listening. We are generally taught how to speak but rarely how to listen. There are different levels of listening:
Inactive Listening – This is where you are hearing the words but your mind may be wandering. The age-old adage: “in one ear and out the other” can best describe inactive listening. The Qur’an describes the conduct of hypocrites who “…turn away in arrogance as if they did not hear them, as if there is deafness in their ears.” (31:7) They hear the words but refuse to listen to the message!
Selective Listening – This is where you hear only what you want to hear. Selective listening occurs when you stop giving thought to what a person is saying and you are preoccupied in formulating your opinion or response to what is being said. It is a sign of failing communication – you cannot hope to understand if you filter part of the message based on preconceived ideas or emotionally difficult circumstances.
Active Listening – As an active listener, you listen not only to the content but to the intent of the message as well. It involves paying attention to the conversation, not interrupting, and taking the time to understand what the speaker is saying. The “active” element involves taking steps to draw out details that might not otherwise be shared. Active listening redirects your focus from your thoughts and emotions to the thoughts and emotions of the speaker.
A wise man said to his son: “learn the art of listening as you learn the art of speaking.”
The average person speaks at least 7,000 words a day, with many speaking much more than that. Think about what that means to you. Those 7,000 words (at least) you speak each day are your imprint on the world. They dictate how people perceive you – and largely define you. Hasan h says, (my younger brother) Husayn radhiyallahu ‘anhu said: “I asked my father (‘Ali radhiyallahu ‘anhu) about the conduct of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam in his assemblies.” He replied, “Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam was always happy and easy mannered. There was always a smile and a sign of happiness on his blessed face. He was soft-natured and when the people needed his approval, he easily gave consent. He did not speak in a harsh tone nor was he hard-hearted. He did not scream while speaking, nor was he rude or spoke indecently. He did not seek other’s faults. He never over-praised anything nor exceeded in joking, nor was he a miser. He kept away from undesirable language and did not make as if he did not hear anything. If he did not agree with the next person’s wish he did not make that person feel disheartened, nor did he promise anything to that person. He completely kept himself away from three things: from arguments, pride and senseless utterances.” (Shamaa-’ il)
Non Verbal Expression
Human communication does not stop at the spoken word, but goes beyond that to include movements of the body and its parts, such as the face, eyes, and hands. Studies have shown that in the process of communication, non-verbal expression has 65% to 93% more influence than actual text. This means that “how to say” is more important than “what to say”. “Nabi g posture was always straight and alert to reflect confidence and strength; he walked briskly to reflect purposefulness, yet his face was always relaxed and peaceful with a poised smile inviting contact and trust. He gave people his full attention by turning towards them with his whole torso not just his head, which made them feel important and appreciated. When he got angry, he simply looked away from the person or the event to indicate his disapproval without saying a word…”
Examples of body language in the Qur’an and Hadith:
• Display of arrogance and contempt: “And turn not away your cheek from people in pride, and walk not haughtily on earth…” (31:18)
• Display of anticipation and yearning: “We have been seeing you turning your face to the heavens. We will certainly assign to you a Qiblah that you would like…” (2:144)
• A display of disapproval: “He frowned and turned away because the blind man approached him…” (80:1)
• A display of warmth: “I did not see anyone smile more than Nabi g.” (Tirmidhi)
The way we communicate holds immense power; it has the power to open close doors or to close open doors. Communication ultimately determines the quality of our lives.