It’s Time to Listen

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:

  • Give your full attention – Show respect for the speaker by making eye contact and asking questions. Don’t engage in distracting activities like checking cell phones or scanning the room. This will demonstrate your full engagement in what the speaker is saying and encourage openness promoting a shared understanding.
  • Seek clarity – Make a point to understand what isn’t clear in what the speaker is saying. Reflect the speaker’s words to confirm your comprehension. Take in and respond to what is being said, and paraphrase what you’ve heard to make sure you truly understand the intended message.   
  • Listen with your heart – Active listening is not just about paying attention and comprehending what’s being said. Active listeners seek to understand the sentiment and motive and open their hearts and minds to another’s perspective. 
  • Be respectful –Caring about other’s perspectives and believing that everyone has a right to speak and be listened to is a fundamental aspect of respect. To cultivate an environment of equity and growth, we must listen to and respect each other first and foremost. 

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.  

active listening

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