The Power of Listening in a Polarized World

New research is helping to build a deep and scientific understanding of what listening is, when and why it matters to the well-being of people, and in what circumstances.

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“When we are listened to well, we flourish.”

New research is helping to build a deep and scientific understanding of what listening is, when and why it matters to the well-being of people, and in what circumstances.

In this video from Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” series, researchers Netta Weinstein, Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Reading, and Guy Itzchakov, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Services at the University of Haifa offer a look into the nuances of the listening process, exploring the roles both the speaker and the listener play in conversation.

Listening to Reduce Polarization

The practice of high-quality listening during disagreements reduces polarization. Netta Weinstein points out that it’s important while listening “to think about not just the quiet parts, but the parts where we talk. Ask good questions. Try to think of questions that will benefit your speaker rather than your curiosity.” Asking how questions creates a more exploratory atmosphere, as opposed to asking why questions, which elicits feelings of defensiveness and the need to explain.

Guy Itzchakov has been intrigued over the course of his studies by “The Boomerang Effect,”a phenomenon where people try to change the attitudes of others by arguing with them. This leads to the opposite result, creating defensiveness, says Itzchakov. The attitude of the recipient becomes even more extreme, in the opposite direction of the intention of the message provider.

A Powerful Tool to Support Human Flourishing

“In an ideal world, we listen from a place of humility,” says Weinstein. She and Itzchakov hope that the listening training they’ve been working with will bring about change, harnessing high-quality listening as a powerful tool for reducing polarization and supporting human flourishing. They’d like to see the people that received the training “serve as social agents so one good listener can have a downstream effect that’s contagious, for the family, for the workplace, and for the community,” says Itzchakov.

Weinstein and Itzchakov were two awardees of Templeton World Charity Foundation’s Grand Challenges for Human Flourishing. Their research has helped inform our latest initiative called Listening and Learning in a Polarized World. For more, go to https://www.templetonworldcharity.org/our-priorities/listeningandlearning.  

Templeton World Charity Foundation’s (TWCF) “Stories of Impact” videos by journalist and senior media executive Richard Sergay feature human stories and critical perspectives on breakthroughs about the universe’s big questions. The inspiring narratives and observations in these award-winning videos portray the individual and societal impacts of the projects that bring to life TWCF-supported research.

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