Time to Talk: Constructing The Two-Sided Conversation

Barriers to Communication: Conversation

A conversation is meant for two.

Every day I use my problem solving skills to figure out the barriers that people have when communicating. This week I looked more deeply at one of my students. Once again I remembered that understanding how someone thinks will help me to know the most effective way to teach. A parent once defined my job as teaching her child how to think. Here is a good example of how speech language pathologists figure out how to help students.

Having a conversation with my student is a difficult experience because she always tells you what is important to her, which is usually an emotionally charged detail she recalls. I wait to find out what we are talking about so I can participate in the conversation, but mostly I feel like am at the mercy of the twisting and turning details she drops like breadcrumbs in Hansel and Gretel.

If this uncomfortable, lost feeling happens to me consistently when I am with a student, I typically will teach them to start with the big idea first, then give details. I model it, then we do a role play where the student introduces a topic before giving details (“I went to the fair on Saturday.”) Then I can remind them, “big ideas first” from then on. That works fine for students who understand the difference between a main idea and a detail. But my student sees everything as equal and assumes everyone knows what she does. She thinks because she knows the topic of our conversation, I do too.

This belief in osmosis is a big obstacle to good communication. It is called lack of perspective-taking (“putting yourself in another’s shoes”), a skill that is natural for many of us, but not all of us as my student proves. One thing I can do is make a list with “what she knows” on one side of the page and “what I know” on the other. She assumes I know everything she knows and is surprised when I ask how I would know that for each item on her list. Then we can take the list of “what I don’t yet know” and practice a conversation where she includes those missing pieces for me. This is concrete and a fairly easy lesson. Again later, I can use reminders like “what don’t I know?” and she will understand what she needs to do.

The harder issue is teaching what is a main idea to introduce the topic as opposed to a key point or detail. Since I tend to use visuals whenever I can, I have been using an app (also software) called Inspiration. Inspiration’s great for throwing out ideas visually in balloons on a page (brainstorming). Then figuring out how to connect them by nesting things under categories or ideas. In this way, the student learns how to organize their thoughts. My favorite part is the toggle button that changes a visual map into an outline! The outline’s Roman numerals give you key ideas and the details are indented with ABCs below. I often use this tool for writing, which is so easy from the outline after you have organized the map. I have also used it to analyze a student’s strengths and challenges when writing speech and language reports, etc.

Back to my student who doesn’t think in hierarchies. After we look at the outline, we can again start practicing how to introduce a topic and give key points with details to support them. It’s really a new way to think for my student and as is the case with new habits, she needs lots of practice! So each session we pick an experience to map out before we have a conversation about it. It can be a new app or game, a book or story, something that happened on the playground, or at a Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Event!

I hope that I have demystified my process of determining and removing barriers to communication with this example. Thinking about how others think can certainly be an enlightening experience!

Here is an extra for all our kids-a blog post about being a good neighbor: Good Neighbors: Teach Your Child to be a Part of the Community.

[Photo credit: (cc) Victor]


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com.


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