Hear Me Out

Paying close attention to speakers may help open their minds.

By Shira Polan, published May 1, 2018 - last reviewed on July 2, 2018

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Want to change someone's opinion? Start by listening: Paying close attention to speakers can lower their social anxiety and make them more open-minded, according to a series of papers in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

"When someone argues with us, we feel as if our right to hold our beliefs is being violated, so we bolster our own attitudes" says Guy Itzchakov, a social psychologist at Ono Academic College in Israel. "But attentive listening makes speakers feel psychologically safe, so they can begin to notice contradictions in their own assertions," he explains, and they may better tolerate contradictory thoughts and emotions. Itzchakov and colleagues have also found that people who speak about controversial topics to a careful listener (rather than a less attentive one) feel more confident that they understand their own beliefs—without feeling more correct. Further, there is evidence that these speakers' opinions end up being less extreme.

Attentive listening techniques that could prove helpful include avoiding distractions (such as cell phones) and showing empathy with nonverbal cues like smiling and head nodding. Perhaps just as important, Itzchakov says, "you must recognize times when you simply aren't able to listen." Better to postpone a weighty talk to a time when you can give it your full attention.