What’s truly hopeful is that we have the means to evoke more goodness from one another. I have witnessed the astonishing power of good listening and healing available when someone gives voice to her experience. I have also learned that when we begin listening to each other, and when we talk about things that matter to us, the world begins to change. –Margaret Wheatley, Turning to One Another
This quote takes me back to a paper I wrote during my senior year at IU. It’s somewhere in a dusty cardboard box in my basement now, but I recall the topic was about listening – listening as a means to facililtate change. Looking back, I think I was on to something. As a 22-year old, I didn’t think I had much wisdom to offer, although I think I got an A on my paper.
Current events have me once again thinking about listening, and how we don’t do it well in our culture. Listening is fundamental to a civil society, and one could argue that the lack of listening has reached a crisis level in our country.
Listening is something that is demanded of children, yet we forget there is a difference between merely hearing and truly listening. Listening is a learned skill.
Learning to listen is reinforced in one of the earliest places of learning, the classroom. Why is our state considering beefing up subject matter training for teachers when they really need more support in how to facilitate the learning that occurs in their classrooms?
Striving for more and more expertise is an investment in mastery that isn’t necessary. What good would the enhanced subject material do for students don’t know how to listen well? Wouldn’t learners be better served by a teacher who is invested in providing an environment where these students can take more responsibility for their own learning?
We are a resource-rich nation. Placing the expert label on teachers sets up a dangerous model for learners to always be searching outside of themselves for the answers.
This is what is playing out in our country right now, and it isn’t working.
I spent several months earlier this year in a leadership training group where we practiced active listening. Our sessions took place in circles, where each individual could see the others, face-to-face. There’s something about sitting in a circle that provides better acoustics for listening. Perhaps it is because there are no corners. The leader sat in the circle and participated with the rest of the group rather than professing to be an expert on the subject matter (although she was the creator of the program).
Each voice was valued equally in this circular setting. The introverts had equal opportunity to share with the extraverts. We reflected listening to one another by recording powerful “readback” lines from one another’s writing and sharing these lines with the group. What a wonderful feeling it is to be listened to in this way. And it is a great way to lift up themes coming from the group for further exploration.
I facilitate writing workshops using this model. It is a joy to witness the rapid improvement in confidence, voice, and writing ability in young writers over the course of even a single session. I believe this is a direct result of the active listening we practice.
Perhaps this is an over-simplification of a complex issue. Yet it is true that listening is foundational to a civil society. Try a simple experiment today. When having a conversation, repeat back one phrase to the person who spoke it. Begin with “So I hear you saying…” Don’t interpret. Just repeat what you heard.
See what happens.