The Importance of Communication, Especially On-Going Communication

David A. Bray
8 min readApr 21, 2018

It may seem like our days are a flood of communication — emails, text messages, social media posts, cell phone calls, voice messages, websites, internet discussion threads, podcasts, television, radio, podcasts, streaming news, and more. Even this post itself is an attempt at communication.

Yet how often do we think of these communication elements as an on-going thread of communication in which we are trying to better understand the perspectives, stances, or inclinations of those different than our existing views?

The Increasing Need for Curious Communication to Overcome Conflict

Much has been written about the concerns that the Internet allows us to pick our own “echo chambers” of news feeds, websites, online friends, and more than match what we like. To a degree this is human, we want to feel like our world views are right and it would introduce a lot of stress to our already busy days to have a crisis of belief and insights on a daily basis.

Yet how often do we proactively seek on-going communication with curiosity to expand beyond what we already believe to be true about the world?

Two weeks ago I wrote about concerns of “Growing Friction Among Societies and What We Can Do About It” — and in that post, I referenced a quote attributed to President Lincoln of “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better”. If we only take the time to get to know people we like, find caring, and find supportive of our world views than we reinforce an age-old human paradigm of “us vs. them” and miss the opportunity to try and find a merit of compassion or insight even in people we might not agree with in principle.

Purely as an estimate, I’d be willing to guess that some form of the 80/20 rule applies to human communication, namely that 80%of the divisions and separation of different groups of people around the world are rooted in miscommunications between the groups. After all, we all are human, meaning we are all born, have a series of life experiences that shaped us, and ultimately will die.

As humans we all have things we like, things we crave, things we fear, and things that we find beautiful.

There may be differences in the specifics, yet the combination of being aware and seeing a world, of experiencing and living, unite us in ways often more subtle than we take the time to realize.

1. Listen with Curiosity, Seek to Understand

An open question for all of us is how often do proactively seek on-going communication with curiosity to listen and understand the views of those who think or see the world differently than ourselves?

In practice, this can often be hard because when we first start to listen to the person they may say or characterize something that goes against our own views of the world or challenges our own moral beliefs. We may experience a mental knee-jerk reaction that wants to defend our existing view of the world relative to the views of the other person.

This is where we internally may need to repeat the mantra of “Seek to listen, before being listened to” and the related corollary of “Seek to understand, before being understood”.

In a fast-paced world of all the communication streams we experience daily, the sheer information overload might push us to feel like we do not have enough time to get to understand someone better. This, I think, where we need to be extremely intentional about taking more time to listen to and understand views over time different than our own as challenging as that might be.

I’m not saying we stop everything and devote hours of our day. More that we take a long view of on-going listening, in honest curiosity, to understand the views of those who think or see the world differently than ourselves. Ideally we do this over multiple iterations of seeking to listen and understand perspectives different than our own.

2. Avoid Reducing Issues into Binary Positions

In the world of heightened emotions and tensions about the state of the world and potential “hot button” political issues, it might be easy to reduce the complexity of the topics into simple us vs. them positions — where we internally think you’re either on this side or you must be again the side of right.

Yet rarely is anything binary in the actual messy milieu of daily living, sense making, and interacting with other humans.

One example of the challenge of attempting to divide the milieu of human interactions in to simple right vs. wrong categories: most of us would agree life is precious — until it comes a question of someone willing to risk their lives to save the lives of others, like a firefighter or a rescue worker attempting to help people in a potentially collapsing structure. Or a question of someone willing to undergo a risky procedure to donate part of their liver to help someone else. Things get even more complicated when it is questions about the quality of life going forward for individual vs. simply the quantity.

Another example of the challenge of attempting to divide the milieu of human interactions in to simple right vs. wrong categories: most of us would agree the truth should always a top priority — until it comes to a question of mercy and kindness in social interactions. Or when sharing our honest answer would hurt others unnecessarily. Or even put the lives of innocents in danger, such as the efforts of the ten Booms Family who made their Christian home a refuge and hiding place for individuals of the Jewish faith and and members of the Dutch underground who were being hunted by the Nazis.

If we can recognize that 3,000 years of human efforts at philosophy still have yet to find a common paradigm that all humans can adopt (which is not to say that everything is relative; we can still discuss the merits of different philosophies and their impacts on societies) — then we can allow ourselves to not fall into the emotional trap of wanting to reduce any debate into an us vs. them argument.

We can strive to seek “third ways” that go beyond the initial stand-off and seeking to understand more why the different sides believe what they believe to be true.

3. Walk a Mile In the Other Person’s Shoes

So let’s say we try to be positive #ChangeAgents and have listened with curiosity over a prolonged period of time to different views and avoided reducing issues into binary positions — is that enough to achieve understanding? In some cases perhaps, in other cases there may be a need for something more interactive and physical in nature.

So much of what makes us who we are are the experiences we have had leading up to the present. There may be a need to experience some of the experiences a person has had to shape their world views.

Walking a metaphorical mile in someone else’s shoes not may not ultimately change your world view, however it will give you a lot greater depth and insight into understanding how others may have reached their world view.

Part of walking metaphorical miles in another person’s shoes is the effort to discard stereotypes and attempt to overcome our own biases which have been shaped by our own experiences in life.

We all have biases, life shapes them in us from a very early age. When a human child starts to crawl, the “stranger danger” instinct kicks in because the child can now potentially venture beyond the protection of their parent or caregiver. As we grow older, other biases emerge as we live and experience life.

Yet these very biases often build walls that impede our ability to understand the perspectives and views of others. To be a postive #ChangeAgent, it is important to reflect and recognize we all have biases — and these biases will often most strongly present themselves in times of emotional stress or conflict — and thus the need to do whatever we can in such tense situations to attempt to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes vs. only walk with our own.

Recap and Closing Thoughts

In a world in which there is increasing conflict among societies, I wonder how much of conflict can be attributed to it being too easy to find other views who support our views through different media forms — so we gravitate into clusters and eventually super-clusters that make it appear like there are only two sides to an issue (ours and those “not of ours”, aka “them”).

In reality, most of life is much more nuanced and complicated than “side 1 vs. side 2”. Our rapidly changing world needs more people willing to seek third, fourth, or even fifth ways of understanding — and bridging — why different sides believe what they believe as true.

For listening with curiosity to translate into understanding, this has to be something we do over a long period of time. In crisis or short-fuse situations this might be difficult. Fortunately not every day is a crisis, and even in these scenarios, there’s always a period afterwards where we hopefully can continue the process of listening and communicating to understand why — and perhaps be better informed should any further crises happen — of the different perspectives and views of a scenario held by different groups of people.

Cumulatively, our world needs more positive #ChangeAgents who:

1. Listen with Curiosity, Seek to Understand

2. Avoid Reducing Issues into Binary Positions

3. Walk a Mile In the Other Person’s Shoes

As emphasized, we shouldn’t just do these three activities as a one-shot activity, say for one or two minutes before we turn off the listening part of our brain and either disengage from further attempts to “know” the other person or jump to trying to convince the other person why we’re right and they wrong. For bridges to be build among societies, we need to be continuously curious — and always seeking to listen, expand beyond binary positions of “side 1 vs. side 2”, and walk metaphorical miles in the shoes of others.

The more we seek to understand and put ourselves in the shoes of others different than ourselves — the more we also will be aware that our own perspectives and views are always changing and shifting, as new experiences impact our own way of thinking and seeing the world. In doing this, we might find new surprising insights both about ourselves — and the common human connections that connect us with others that we previously though were different than us — along life’s journey.

After all, life is not a straight line. What we can hope, however, is it connects us with many different and diverse people along its path who increase our insights into the world, life, and humanity.

Onwards and upwards together!



David A. Bray

Championing People-Centered Ventures & #ChangeAgents. Reflecting on How Our World Is Changing. Leadership is Passion to Improve Our World.