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Are You Listening?

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

One of the first things a mediator in training is taught is to listen, really listen what the parties are saying.  Aka “Active Listening”! Well, it seems that the need and ability to listen is a trait that many in the general population should also learn.

A recent article in the Sunday Review Section of the New York Times (Sunday- January 12, 2020) highlights the fact that few of us listen to each other. In an article entitled, “Lessons in the Lost Art of Listening”, Kate Murphy who wrote a book on the subject, asked people from Brooklyn, New York to Beijing, China “what it meant to be a good listener.” She was met with blank stares! (Id.) Instead, it was quite easy for the responders to define a “bad listener “as one who interrupted, looked at their phone and responded in a “…narcissistic or confused way.”(Id.)

Ms. Murphy notes that technology aka smart phones with its never-ending social media does play a role. But education is also the culprit in that we are not taught how to “carefully listen”. She notes that one can obtain a PhD. in speech communication without learning how to listen! Further modern life is full of noise whether it is traffic, a noisy restaurant, a crowded sub way et cetera. It is hard to listen when there is so much background noise that is never ending. (Id.)

So- how does one listen? It is more than just hearing what someone has to say. It also includes “…paying attention to how they say it, and what they do while they are saying it in what context, and how what they say resonates within you.“ (Id.)

It is asking the right questions!  Be curious about the other person without having a hidden agenda that includes “…fixing, saving, advising, convincing or correcting.“ (Id.)  Ask a very open-ended generalized question simply because you want to learn more about the person rather than one that is designed to elicit a “Yes” or “No” or other very short response. Ms. Murphy also suggests that one not ask questions such as “what do you do for a living” or “where do you live” as such questions are implicitly designed to rank the person in the social hierarchy rather than to simply get to know them (Id.)

She suggests that you ask expansive questions about someone’s interests, or the last movie they saw, or some other topic about them. (Id.)

Ms. Murphy notes a point I learned long ago: that we think much faster than we can talk. So, it is important to say focused on what the other person is saying and NOT jump ahead to thinking about how we want to respond or to otherwise get distracted with our own thoughts! (Id.)

In sum, Ms. Murphy is advocating  the art of “Active Listening”:

 Active listening is the ability to focus completely on a speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information and respond thoughtfully. Unlike passive listening, which is the act of hearing a speaker without retaining their message, this highly valued interpersonal communication skill ensures you’re able to engage and later recall specific details without needing information repeated.

Active listeners use verbal and non-verbal techniques to show and keep their attention on the speaker. This not only supports your ability to focus, but also helps ensure the speaker can see that you are focused and engaged. Instead of thinking about and mentally rehearsing what you might say when the speaker is done, an active listener carefully considers the speaker’s words and commits the information to memory.

Try it sometime! You will learn quite a lot about people and, in the process, create a lot of great relationships.

…. Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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