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Handout 1: Nine Guidelines for Listening to Others

These guidelines are designed to facilitate healthy dialogue and deep listening in various situations and to create a safe space for meaningful conversation on all levels.

  • When you are listening, suspend assumptions. What we assume is often invisible to us. We assume that others have had the same experiences that we have, and we listen to them with that in mind. Learn to recognize assumptions by noticing when you get upset or annoyed by something someone else is saying. You may be making an assumption. Let it be—suspend it—and resume listening so you can understand the other person.
  • When you are speaking, express your personal response. You have a unique perspective, informed by your tradition, beliefs, and life practices. Speak from your heart, using "I" language to take ownership of what you say. Notice how often the phrases "we all," "of course," "everyone says," and "you know" come into your conversation. The only person you can truly speak for is yourself.
  • Listen without judgment. The purpose of dialogue is to come to an understanding of another person, not to determine whether the person is good, bad, right, or wrong. If you are sitting there thinking, "That's good," "That's bad," "I like that," or "I don't like that," you are having a conversation in your own mind, not listening to the speaker. Simply notice when you do this, and return to being present with the speaker.
  • Suspend status. Everyone is an equal partner in a mutual quest for insight and clarity. You are each an expert in your own life, and that's what you bring to the dialogue process.
  • Honor confidentiality. If you tell others about stories or ideas from this workshop, leave the names of participants in the room so that no one's identity will be revealed. A couple's communication should also be kept confidential to engender trust in the relationship. Ask permission before sharing your partner's innermost thoughts. Create a safe space for self-expression.
  • Listen for understanding, not to agree with or believe. You do not have to agree with or believe anything that is said. Your job is to listen for understanding.
  • Ask clarifying or open-ended questions. Use them to further your understanding and to explore assumptions.
  • Honor silence and time for reflection. Notice what wants to be said rather than what you want to say.
  • Ensure that one person speaks at a time. Pay attention to the flow of the conversation. Notice what patterns emerge when you are in a group. Give each person an opportunity to speak, while knowing that no one is required to speak.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.

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