Listening To Others—With Understanding and Empathy

Highly effective people spend an inordinate amount of time and energy listening (Covey, 1989). Some psychologists believe that the ability to listen to another person, to empathize with, and to understand their point of view is one of the highest forms of intelligent behavior. Being able to paraphrase another person's ideas, detecting indicators (cues) of their feelings or emotional states in their oral and body language (empathy), accurately expressing another person's concepts, emotions and problems—all are indications of listening behavior (Piaget called it "overcoming ego-centrism"). They are able to see through the diverse perspectives of others. They gently attend to another person demonstrating their understanding of and empathy for an idea or feeling by paraphrasing it accurately, building upon it, clarifying it, or giving an example of it.

 Senge and his colleagues (1994) suggest that to listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only to the "music", but also to the essence of the person speaking. You listen not only for what someone knows, but also for what he or she is trying to represent. Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow your mind's hearing to your ears' natural speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning.

We spend 55 percent of our lives listening yet it is one of the least taught skills in schools. We often say we are listening but in actuality, we are rehearsing in our head what we are going to say next when our partner is finished. Some students ridicule, laugh at, or put down other students' ideas. They interrupt are unable to build upon, consider the merits of, or operate on another person's ideas. We want our students to learn to devote their mental energies to another person and invest themselves in their partner's ideas.

We wish students to learn to hold in abeyance their own values, judgments, opinions, and prejudices in order to listen to and entertain another person’s thoughts. This is a very complex skill requiring the ability to monitor one’s own thoughts while, at the same time, attending to the partner’s words. This does not mean that we can’t disagree with someone. A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.

Meets GL Expectations

·         Is an attentive listener

·         Shows understanding and empathy for other people’s ideas

·         Is able to paraphrase, question, and provide examples to develop further understanding

Approaches GL Expectations

· Is easily distracted and is not a consistent listener

· Is able to repeat SOME parts of what has been said

· Has difficulty showing respect for other people and their ideas

Does Not Meet GL Expectations

· Is easily distracted from listening by environment

· Interrupts others

· Daydreams; loses focus

· Can’t paraphrase any part of spoken words