In this section we will cover the following elements:
Egan (1994) distinguishes between ‘listening’ and ‘attending’. While listening refers to a practitioner’s capacity to hear, understand and respond to verbal and non verbal communication. Attending is more active in nature and is linked to the capacity of practitioners to build empathetic relationships with young people. To understand young people, practitioners are required to be open and curious about the social and psychological experiences of young people, and their quest for meaning, existence, so they can come to answer the big existential question ‘who are you?’.
For Egan, it is important for practitioners to physically (physical attending) communicate and embody this understanding. An example of ‘physical attending’ is when a practitioner displays an open, collaborative and relaxed demeanour. This can help to alleviate anxiety and present a message to (young) people that you want to listen to their experience.
To understand and communicate the perspectives of young people, practitioners need to listen to both the young person and to themselves. This reflective quality to listening is captured in the following definition from ‘Training for Transformation’ (Hope and Timmel, 2001)
“Listening is an art, a skill, and a discipline. As in the case of other skills, it needs self control. The individual needs to understand what is involved in listening and develop the necessary self-control to be silent and listen, keeping down their own needs and concentrating attention on the other with a spirit of humility”.
Reflective listening supports practitioners to build relationships with young people that allow the work of, for example, unpacking extremism to happen. The importance of reflective listening for practice is outlined in Transforming Hate in Youth Settings (2018) https://www.youth.ie/articles/transforming-hate-in-youth-work-settings/
“Working on recognising, tackling and transforming hateful behaviour involves a lot of personal emotions. Youth workers – and trainers – cannot stand apart from their own identity, and as such have to develop competencies around tackling their own emotions when faced with instances of hateful speech and behaviour. When emotions are not acknowledged, they can cause resistance so it is important to address them”.
Developing the capacity to listen in a reflective manner can seem daunting.
Take heart; it takes practice and an acceptance that as practitioners, our role is to work with young people to unpack ideas, beliefs, feelings and values, including, in this case, extremism.
Practitioners are not ‘blank slates’. They bring their feelings, assumptions and beliefs to practice.
The DEPAL project (2019) employs the helpful metaphor of ‘filter’ to highlight how personal and professional experience influence our capacity to listen. ‘Our life story, attitudes, cultural values, political ideologies, religious beliefs, professional training etc. can all influence what we actually hear. These act as filters through which we hear the other person. When we are listening to other people we are generally listening through the filter of our own experience’.
In essence, reflective listening is the capacity to understand the influence of our ‘life story’ on our practice with young people. It requires practitioners to reflect on the experiences they bring to practice and how these ‘filters’ have the potential to ‘trigger’ emotional and behavioural responses in both parties. The activity explored later in this module,
‘The Practitioner in Context’ is a tool to identify the personal, professional and wider system experiences we bring to practice.
Remember the purpose of reflective listening is not to engage in ‘filter-less’ listening, As some filters are unconscious, this is not possible. The DEPAL Project (2019) offers some helpful guidance:
“What is possible, is to become aware of one’s own filters and the impact they are having on one’s listening. I can then decide if the filter is helping or hindering the conversation.
I can choose to engage in the dialogical practice of suspending judgement. Our filters often invite us to make value judgments quickly: we make assessments that what someone said is good or bad, right or wrong. Suspension of judgment isn’t about ceasing to exercise judgement. Rather, it’s about noticing what our judgments are – and then holding them lightly so that we can still hear what others are saying, even when it may contradict our own judgments”.
In our EDURAD project, our workshops with practitioners highlighted how language, in particular hate speech, micro-aggressions and ‘othering’ someone, triggers emotion.
This was the experience of both practitioners (and young people).
When presented with hate speech, for example with racism, practitioners are faced with a decision to either ‘close things down, or open things up’.
The decision to ‘close’ conversation can be linked to concerns about, for example, young people getting hurt.
But the act of closing conversation may hurt rather than protect young people who experience this as ‘being silenced’ or shut down if hateful speech by others is not addressed.
The dilemma of whether to ‘close things down’ or ‘open things up’, and unpack the meaning of language with young people, is an example of ‘Red flag listening – words that cause emotional reaction’ (Hope & Timmel, 2001). Such words are like a ‘red rag to a bull’ and we often react automatically.
Words triggers the ‘filters’ of the listener, for example, ‘I do not have the experience to deal with this’ (competence), ‘somebody will get hurt’ (risk/harm), ‘this racist remark could be directed at me’ (resonance with own experience). In terms of behaviour, we stop listening to the speaker and take defensive steps to manage the impact of the trigger on self.
The next slide offers steps to support practitioners to remain in reflective listening mode.
Source: National Youth Council of Ireland (2018) Transforming Hate in Youth Settings An Educational Tool and Practice Manual for those working with young people, Dublin: NYCI.
The exercise can be completed by an individual to support reflection. It can also be competed and shared as part of group development.
Please complete these sentences:
Adapted from DEPAL Project (2019) Understanding Participatory and Digital Learning: A Guide for Adult Educators. https://www.depalproject.eu/
Thinking about listening as an ethical practice reminds us of the complexity of listening.
Julie Tilsen (2018: 65) describes different kinds of listening, and says we should move beyond ‘active listening’ and we should listen for what is ‘absent’ or unspoken. Here are some examples. You may have more.
She asks us to think about what listening does, what is its purpose and value is, and what it makes possible. What ways of listening inspire you?
Practice listening in everyday life to everyday sounds, from voices and accents, the sound of the wind or scratching surfaces, to sacred sounds. Sounds are experienced directly by the body and can be the cause of bringing together or of dividing us from one another (“they’re too loud”). Bring awareness and curiosity to responses to different kinds of sounds can support listening.