Blog · Jun 25, 2020
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” This observation attributed to the sage Greek philosopher Epictetus, circa 55 AD. reminds us that listening is our greatest way for us to learn from each other. We can learn a great deal by listening to our communities, listening to our students, and listening to each other. Listening is more than just hearing the words others speak and waiting for our chance to respond. Listening is about tuning in to the speaker's nonverbal cues to understand the message beyond what is presented on the surface. When we really listen to each other, we begin to understand each other’s perspectives and take the first step to finding common ground and solutions.
Listening isn’t always easy. Many of us fall into the habit of framing our next contribution to a conversation rather than really hearing the messages that are being spoken. We sometimes dig our heels firmly into our own point of view rather than trying to comprehend a new perspective or gain understanding of an aspect of a topic or event we hadn’t previously considered. However, listening offers a tremendous opportunity to learn, enrich our own understanding, and develop solutions.
Active listening is the cornerstone of effective communication because hearing words alone doesn't result in comprehension. Active listening is a deliberate action to take to learn and understand. It is not just waiting for our turn to speak. It is based on the desire to see another’s point of view. Active listeners show the speaker they have been heard and understood. An active listener engages in conversation to receive the speaker’s message as it is intended. Active listeners communicate respect through positive feedback and open receipt of information.
Effective communication skills like active listening improve with practice. Here are some tips for engaging in active listening:
Active listening requires humility and a willingness to listen to ideas that conflict with our own. When we really listen to each other, we learn what matters to others, what they need to feel heard, and how to work towards solutions together. When we are prepared to challenge ourselves to consider other points of view, what we learn from others might help us feel more confident in our own perspective or find there are other avenues to take us to the solutions we seek. Together, we can build stronger relationships and communities when we listen to each other with open hearts and minds.