The Power of Listening in Helping People ChangeAnother benefit of high-quality listening is that it helps speakers see both sides of an argument (what we called “attitude complexity”). In another paper we found that speakers who conversed with a good listener reported attitudes that were more complex and less extreme — in other words, not one-sided. In another lab experiment we instructed 114 undergraduates at a business school to talk for 12 minutes about their fitness to become a manager in the future. We randomly assigned these speakers to one of three listening groups (good, moderate, and poor). Speakers in the good listening condition talked to a trained listener, who was either a certified management coach or a trained social-work student. We asked these trained listeners to use all their listening skills, such as asking questions and reflecting. Speakers in the moderate listening condition talked to another undergraduate at the business school who was instructed to listen as he or she usually does. Speakers in the poor listening condition talked with a student from the theatre department who was instructed to act distracted (e.g., by looking aside and playing with their smartphones). After the conversation, we asked the speakers to indicate separately the extent to which they thought they were suitable for becoming managers. Based on these answers, we calculated their attitude complexity (whether they saw both strengths and weaknesses that would affect their ability to be a manager) and extremity (whether they saw only one side). We found that speakers who talked to a good listener saw both strengths and weaknesses more than those in the other conditions. Speakers who talked to a distracted listener mostly described their strengths and barely acknowledged their weaknesses. Interestingly, the speakers in the poor listening condition were those that, on average, reported feeling the most suitable for becoming a manager.
What Great Listeners Actually DoTo the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehended it well enough to want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.
If You Want People to Listen, Stop TalkingThere is almost always more substance below the surface of what people say than there is in their words. They have issues they are not willing to reveal. Agendas they won’t share. Opinions too unacceptable to make public. […]. We can hear all those things — and more — when we keep quiet. We can feel the substance behind the noise. I could tell what George was doing, because when he decided to speak, he was able to articulate each person’s position. And, when he spoke about what they said, he looked at them in acknowledgement, and he linked what they had said to the larger outcome they were pursuing. Here’s what’s interesting: Because it was clear that George had heard them, people did not argue with him. And, because he had heard them, his perspective was the wisest in the room.
On the listening of poetryPoetry is not about success or failure, it's about listening. It's about exploring your own experience of life. It's about tuning into your lifestream and plucking out the emotional bits so you can celebrate *your* human experience. There is no successful poem. There is only resonance or not. The resonance you are looking for is what happens inside of you when you hit a phrase, an expression, a word, that makes you feel that *ah-ha.*
In fact, in Phillips’s view, the story of psychoanalysis has a tragic end. He thinks Freud was a victim of his own success. In the beginning, like a good critic, Freud let his patients own their mysteries. But, as psychoanalysis became an institution unto itself and developed its own rules and dogmas, analysts began to talk over their patients. “Once Freud had discovered what he called the unconscious it was never clear how unconscious the unconscious would be allowed to be (at least by the owners of psychoanalysis). What would it be to be an expert or a specialist of the unconscious?” Phillips writes. “Do psychoanalysts know what people are talking about or just know how to let people speak for themselves?” An enterprise that was characterized, at first, by uncertainty became too certain. Although Phillips discusses Freud’s later books throughout “Becoming Freud”—books like “Civilization and Its Discontents” and “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”—the narration itself stops, rather abruptly, when Freud is fifty. That, he seems to say, is when the psychoanalytic enterprise began to grow claustrophobic and controlling.