Frost wrote the New England adage that “good fences make good neighbors” and that may be true. However, walls aren’t fences. Walls block oral and visual communications. That makes them good for hermits, and problematic for the rest of us.
Humans are social animals. We require some level of interaction with others for our own mental balance as well as for sheer survival. Three hundred years ago, an individual could get a patch of land, clear part of it, use the wood to build a house, and grow his own crops. Even then, the pioneer would have to buy tools, weapons, nails, cattle, seeds, etc. You have to go back a lot farther in history to find a time when a person could thrive on his or her own.
Walls can take various forms:
- Physical walls are relatively rare, although walled residential communities are a common site in St. Louis and Las Vegas. In other urban settings, planners have used a combination of buildings, highways and parks to restrict access between areas of a city — for example, to keep ghetto residents out of college campuses.
- Some people use pets as barriers.
- Virtual barriers are quite common.
- Call screening is obvious and commonplace in both homes and offices. Are you not there or avoiding me? If I leave a message, will you listen to it? Will the message be garbled by your device?
- Perceptions are barriers. “I’m not going to tell him about X because he won’t be interested.” “I won’t shop at Y because they don’t carry anything I can afford.” “I can’t tell Z what I really think because it will hurt the cooperation I get from him.” Maybe that’s true, maybe its not.
- The there’s the Internet . . . .
The Web and social media were designed to facilitate communications, but they actually do just the opposite.
- Posts and emails tend to be cryptic, if only because a lot of people don’t like to type.
- Posts are devoid of the physical cues that communicate so much about emotional content.
- Senders spend little time thinking about what they write, so word use is inferior and meaning can be hard to decipher.
- Safety issues encourage people to communicate as little of substance as possible, since you don’t know who else might see the message.
So we wind up getting messages like “I’m at XYZ Dance Studio.” Why do I care about that? What would you really like to tell me?
Barriers are the reasons sales trainers stress the importance of listening skills. The seller needs to be able to identify and address the barriers to communications in order to get the potential buyer to listen and understand.
Arguably, listening skills are essential life skills and not just for sales. Doctors and lawyers lose clients because they don’t listen. Individuals lose friends for the same reason.
Once you learn to listen intently, you will gain insight into why word choice is so important. That in turn will make the messages you send more precise and effective.
However, you can’t practice listening skills without tearing down the barriers to communications. That means being available for communications and being willing to listen to people whose opinions may differ from your own.