Authentic Communication: The Power of Listening
You don’t have to be a genius to realize that most of our communication problems are, in their essence, caused by our difficulty to listen to each other authentically.
Whether we like it or not, most of us just listen to reply. We’re not really interested in what the other wishes to say to us but, rather, we have an urgent need to voice our opinions. And, needless to say, in so doing, we aren’t actually listening to the other person, giving him/her our full attention while honouring their right to express themselves. As a result, more often than not, conflict arises and communication breaks down.
So, what’s actually necessary to be able to listen in an authentic way? The way I see it, one of the most important ingredients is mindfulness, which is defined as our ability to be present to what is arising with kindness and without judgement. This skill will enable us to be anchored in ourselves and pay attention to someone else at the same time, which will allow us, in turn, to free ourselves from judgement and regulate our emotions. Almost all of the time, we face conversations with preconceptions, presuppositions or limiting beliefs, i.e., who we think the other person is, who we are, what we should do, etc. As a consequence, we are quick to react when conflict arises, we either feel the urge to defend ourselves or fight.
What mindfulness brings to our lives is the possibility to hold mindful dialogues and enrichen our experience with true connections. Mindful communication can be trained and the good news is everyone has the capacity to develop it. All it takes is our intention to be true to ourselves and to others, and honour our interconnectedness.
In the context of Intercultural Communication, sustaining a mindful dialogue with someone means you’re able to see the other one for who he/she truly is, taking into account his/her unique cultural background while honouring the differences between you. In its essence, it means letting go of stereotypes and extreme religious or political ideologies to be able to welcome flexibility and curiosity in the conversation.
As regards English Learning, the concepts of “native vs. non-native” speakers sometimes creates considerable tension and stress in those who aren’t “native” speakers, who feel they cannot live up to the “native accent” ideal and, as a consequence, lack self-confidence. There’s a clear power struggle, where those who are considered “native English speakers” are presupposed to be “better” at English (which is in itself the language of power) than all those speakers who aren’t “native speakers” and are, thus, shamed to be “less than” others in conversation.
However, English shouldn’t be reduced to the “native-non-native” dicotomy. It should definitely embrace something much larger than that. As many researchers and scholars have suggested, English is a Lingua Franca, i.e. “a language systematically used to make communication possible between groups of people who do not share a native language or dialect, particularly when it is a third language that is distinct from both of the speakers’ native languages”.