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Civility Corner: The Second Tool of Civility: Be Silent to Listen

by Orlaine I. Gabert, Door County Civility Project

The first tool of civility, discussed in the Aug. 6 issue of the Peninsula Pulse, is to pay attention.

Listening is the second tool of civility. Most of us believe we’re good listeners, but probably we’re good hearers instead. Listening goes beyond hearing what is said to truly understanding all that’s said. The first tool, paying attention, prepared us to listen, but we’re not in a vacuum. We have many distractions that interfere with listening.

During my research, I found a reminder that provides the help we need to ignore these distractions: The words “listen” and “silent” contain the same number of letters. To understand what we’re hearing, we need to silence distractions so that we can use the tool of listening.

What are some of these distractions, and how can we silence them? One is all the other sounds, voices and noise around us. To tune them out, we may need to move to a quieter space. 

Second, we need to focus on the speaker. We must maintain frequent eye contact, make gestures that indicate we’re truly with the person, and avoid making eye contact with the rest of our environment. When we don’t find the topic fascinating, it’s good to remind ourselves that it’s still important to the speaker, who wants us to understand her or his interest in it.

Third, we must be aware of our self-talk and all the other thoughts we have going on. When we notice them, we must shut down the self-talk immediately and direct our attention back to the speaker. 

Fourth, we may find ourselves working on our response to what’s being said while we’re still listening to it. When that happens, we’re listening to ourselves and not to the speaker. Again, we must stop the thinking and remind ourselves that we need a full understanding of the other person’s thoughts in order to respond appropriately and in an informed way. We will have our turn! During a civil conversation, the speaker asks us to listen, and then she or he will listen to us.

Finally, it’s good to remind ourselves regularly that for now, we will be silent.

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