After Election Day: How to Listen Better to Each Other

If ever we need to learn how to listen, it's now.

Posted Oct 30, 2020

Mimi Thian/Unsplash
Source: Mimi Thian/Unsplash

The next few weeks will be challenging for us all. In a polarized society, how can we listen better? Learning to listen more deeply is a lifelong task. The health of our schools, the place where we work, our families, all depend on people feeling listened to and heard. Good listening is a skill in short supply these days. We need to practice it. 

Here are some “best practices” around listening skills that we’ve developed through our work with schools at the Stanley King Institute.

Your core attitude: community roles and human dignity

In the school or workplace, regardless of the power differential, real or perceived, can you listen to your colleague as a partner in your work together? Do the people you work with feel heard and understood by you? Can you see other people’s strengths as a valuable complement to your skills and not a threat to your position or authority? 

The same goes for families— can you listen to each other with an awareness of the human dignity that all people require in order to feel safe and heard? 

Develop your listening skills

Work on allowing yourself to become aware of your stereotypes and prior assumptions and put them aside as you listen to others.

Be attentive to the urge to dismiss views you don’t agree with.

Whether you agree or not, can you listen when someone is explaining something to you? 

Here are some concrete ways to achieve this:

Encourage the other person to talk about how they came to their beliefs. “I’d like to understand your point of view. Please tell me more how you have come to that belief.”

Learn to summarize and paraphrase what is being said to you in order to ensure that you are hearing the other person accurately. “Let me see if I have gotten this right…” “Here’s what I hear you saying….Have I gotten that right?”

In other words, repeat back what you heard the other person say (summarizing and paraphrasing). Have them confirm that what you heard is actually what they said, free of interpretation or added spin. 

Don’t interrupt. 

Don’t argue. 

Tone

Strive for a tone that conveys genuine curiosity rather than a judgmental challenge to the person to justify himself or herself. 

Become aware of whether your intention is to open up or shut down the other person. Are you listening with true curiosity and compassionate interest?

“Dialogue and repair” in relationships

Practice and deepen your ability to “rewind and repair” when dialogue is threatened.

Practice the courage to be mindful of moments when there are uncomfortable moments in an interaction.

Can you say, “It feels to me that something happened that left you (or me) uncomfortable. Can we rewind here and start over?”

Can you ask, “Do you feel that I am hearing you?”—and listen to the answer?

Are you able to summarize what was said to your colleagues’ satisfaction?

Identify and clarify shared core values

Key questions for us all to answer about our values:

What gives you membership in your home, in this institution, in your community, in our nation?  

Who feels like a valued member here and who does not? 

Who feels alienated and why? 

Who feels unsafe in this community?

What makes you feel part of the community? 

Remember: Small changes in behavior can lead to large changes in community well-being.