Merv Griffin, known best as a talk show host and game show impresario, died last week. His talk show, “The Merv Griffin Show”, was on the air for 20 years. An Associated Press story published last week said that Griffin attributed his success as a talk show in part to his ability to listen. “‘If the host is sitting there thinking about his next joke, he isn’t listening,’ Griffin reasoned in a recent interview.”
Merv Griffin hit on an important theme for effective communication: when you are listening to another person talk, you must truly listen. Attentive listening allows you to hear not only what the other person is saying, but how it is said — in tone and in body language. Also, the most important words may be those we expect to hear but aren’t said at all, and whose absence may send a very important message.
The challenge for the effective talk show host is to listen carefully to pick up on the most interesting and entertaining information that a guest is conveying, instead of simply preparing his own best joke.
Similarly, the challenge to a party to a conflict is to resist the temptation to prepare a stinging comeback, a pithy rejection to another’s proposal, or an impassioned rebuttal to criticism while the other party is talking.
The mediator has a two challenges. First, she encourages the parties to forgo the verbal sparring and concentrate on moving towards resolving their conflict. Second, she keeps her focus on listening to and understanding all of the messages that the parties are sending, in order to help them achieve resolution.