Thursday, August 9, 2012

Reading vs. Skimming

As I near completion of my seminary degree, I become even more introspective than I have been.  I have seen much value in the formative process of education in myself.  While I have learned a lot in the process, I have come to a keen realization that I have so much more to learn.  Education is helpful, but I will not fall into the trap of thinking that education comes through institutions of higher learning alone.

One skill that I have honed throughout this degree program is the capacity to skim versus read.  With hundreds and hundreds of pages to read every quarter, it becomes a necessity to read things for the main points, seeking the parts that stand out above the rest.  Word by word reading can get one bogged down in ways that are limiting.

Not only does our higher education demand such a cursory reading of materials, our culture and society does as well.  I was meeting with a friend yesterday and came to the realization that this is the way that we live.  Every day, we are inundated with information, too much to be able to process on a finite level.  This requires us to skim what is before us rather than reading for details.

When was the last time that you signed a loan form or a form at the doctor’s office and actually read every single word that was in the document that you had signed.  When you receive an application for a credit card and sign it, do you really read every word within the agreement?  Do you read all of the terms of agreement on every document placed before you?

Now take it to a more personal level.  Do you read every word of every email or letter that is sent to you?  As I conversed with my friend yesterday and asked myself that question, I was struck by the honest to goodness truthful answer.  No, I don’t.  And at the moment that I realized that, I realized how crucial that it is to do my part to understand and grasp things that are being sent to me.

When I give things that are sent to me a cursory reading or skimming rather than actually paying attention to what is being communicated, I have more of a tendency to read it through my own lens, coloring it with my own preconceived notions, prejudices, and stereotypes.  We all do this, some more than others.  If you legitimately think that you don’t, I would go back and compare your reading of something with someone else’s to prove the point.  You might be surprised at the things that you might have read into something.

What’s the key to success in this area?  That’s the journey that I am on.  I would gather that the first step is to slow down.  When we are hurried and rushing about from here to there, reading messages on our smartphones, we will be more apt to miss things or, worse yet, misunderstand things.  Someone recently told me that they dislike email for that reason.  They said that they would much rather pick up the phone, or go down the hall and talk to someone.  Of course, that doesn’t eliminate completely the possibility for misunderstanding, but it certainly can help.

I have read and heard that more than 60% of communication can be non-verbal, when we eliminate the non-verbal, are we communicating as effectively as we could?  No, but there are times when we have no choice.  I don’t have the opportunity to sit in front of everyone who reads this and explain it all face to face.  While I settle for the opportunity to post this on the internet, I understand that I also run the risk of being misunderstood.  Face to face or via written communication, that risk will always be present within our imperfect world.

I need to learn to slow things down, especially in communication.  I am working on reading more deliberately and carefully, understanding and acknowledging that I have not always done well with it.  If I’m not heeding my own advice, I certainly can’t criticize others for doing likewise.  I need to realize the fast I read, the greater margin for error that there is.  I need to shrink that margin, how about you?

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