Listening is one of those skills we use all the time, but usually not very well. There is a difference between authentic listening and waiting for the other person to finish talking so you can get your turn to speak. In a debate, we selectively listen for the “weak points” in the other person’s thoughts so we can advance our opinion. In a dialogue, we listen openly to learn about the other person’s perspective. If we are willing, we can be “conscious listeners” – neutral yet engaged, attentive to both what is said and not said.
So who is smarter: the person who wins the debate or the one who practices conscious listening? Research from the University of Michigan shows that we expand our brain capacity by trying on someone’s else worldview. That adds more neural territory than holding onto a fixed point of view.
At Common Knowledge, we help our partners and facilitation trainees think about listening across three channels:
- Listening to Self
- Listening One on One
- Listening Together as a Group
- All participants share responsibility for listening
- Making meaning together
Our work in communities shows that listening together is the foundation for learning together. The whole group expands it capacity to come to shared understanding about complex situations and possible paths forward.
With thanks to the sponsorship of the California State Library, Common Knowledge led two webinars about listening and facilitation:
If you are interested in increasing your awareness about listening, we also recommend Julian Treasure’s TED talk about listening.
“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”