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Comprehension Masters

We have Toastmasters to help with public speaking, but we don’t have Comprehension Masters. We should. Actively listening and trying to understand others fully is a far more challenging and superior skill than speaking. The truth is, no matter how clearly you try to articulate your message, if your audience doesn’t gift you with its attention, you will not succeed in communicating.  Some things to consider when communicating with others include tribalism, turns, wait, clarify, verify, thoughtfully respond, and mastery. 


As people get entrenched in their tribal beliefs, they can tune out what others are saying. Each year we survive the crosstown classic; as Chicagoans we can survive other divides. Rachelle, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say in the preceding sentence….  How is the Crosstown Classic tied to tribalism?  Can you provide a stronger link to help people understand the correlation?  

Remember, when you’re listening you have more in common with others than is often apparent. By looking closely at the root of a statement, you can often find shared values. For example, while ESC Consultants come from a vast array of professional backgrounds, they are all community-minded individuals who share the similar goal of helping others achieve the best results for those served by an extensive variety of non-profit organizations. 


When communicating with others, listen!  Don’t spend your time thinking of a witty retort while waiting for your turn to talk.  Just listen. 

Don’t interrupt with words, sounds, gestures, distracting actions, or comic facial expressions. Be fully present while the other person is speaking. 


When the speaker has concluded his/her remarks, take a second to process what has been said.  We know that one of the most beneficial characteristics of an effective educator is being a teacher who provides sufficient “wait time” after posing a question to students.  Similarly, we should take a moment to allow a statement to sink in or to consider all options of a question’s response.  This will allow discourse to be more meaningful.


Ask specific follow up questions to clarify anything of which you may be unclear or uncertain. 

In the land of synonyms and slang, don’t be afraid to ask the intended meaning of a word or for additional context and understanding. 


Like a club jam in the 90s, “holla back y’all.”  Repeat back to the speaker, in your own words, what he/she has said to guarantee that you understood the point. 

If you misunderstood anything, consider the speaker’s point without judgement and structure discussion to address specific issues to ensure success of a project or campaign. 


Thoughtfully Respond

When you do respond to the speaker, you should do so as if you’re following the speaker’s lead in a waltz.  Keep in mind tone and tenor. 

It is certainly fine to disagree, just avoid raising the intensity of the exchange. You can convey more wrong than right when you assert a valid point in an unprofessional or insulting way. 



Like public speaking, comprehension is a skill that requires ongoing practice and focused improvement. Misunderstandings will occur, but a concerted effort toward listening, accurately stating positions, and considering all aspects of an issue will take us far in comprehension mastery.

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