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Listen to This!
Listening is a core competency for communication and for relationships

by Joshua Freedman



2000 Handle With Care Emotional Intelligence Activity Kit / Calendar


Why Listen?

Feb- Listening

Listening Activities


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"The best way to diffuse an argument is to listen first, second, and last."
-- Anabel Jensen

“My only advice is to stay aware, listen carefully, and yell for help if you need it.”
-- Judy Blume

Why Listen?

Listening is a core competency skill for relationships. As we become better skilled at listening, we uncover layers and layers of communication -- both in conversation and within ourselves. There is no communication that goes only one way; if we want to be heard, we will practice hearing. Listening is the basis of conflict resolution, the core of trust, and also central to the development of healthy self-concept.

Listening is an active process. It involves being in the moment, interpreting, and deferring judgement.

One of the largest blocks to listening is our desire to solve problems. This is particularly true for teachers and parents. For some of us it is a bigger challenge than others -- I know that when a student comes to me in turmoil about an issue, I often find myself leaping into talking... even though I know that listening will serve better.

Another barrier to listening is time. A colleague has made a "sacred" time each night when she and one of her daughters is home, she always spends a few minutes just sitting on the edge of their beds, ready to listen. Her daughters are now in their 20's, but that doesn't stop Lee from listening. She often says that it has been one of the most valuable practices she developed as a parent. No pressure, no questions, just a time and place to listen.

The except below is from February of our 2000 Emotional Intelligence Calendar / Activity Kit. It provides some context on the meaning of listening and several activities to practice. In the calendar there are also books, movies, role models, postcards, and stickers. While all these are fun helpers, the real tool for teaching listening is -- listening. If each of us can take responsibility for listening a little more to each other, our kids, and our students, we will certainly become more clear and connected.

February -- Listening

Most of us have spent a lot of time and energy learning to talk. We often assume that because we speak, others will hear and understand. But we often forget to practice, and to teach, listening.

Listening can be listening to your own self; it can be listening to someone you have trouble hearing; or it can be listening to your family and friends. It can also be listening to the wind, to water, to children playing, or to new knowledge.

Effective listening includes paying close attention to body language and to intent -- to truly hear, listen with all your senses. To listen effectively, you can also pay attention to your own motive -- are you trying to convince, or to learn?

Listening Practice

• Practice listening for someone. "Listening for" means listening to intentions, to vision, to greatness. When you listen for someone, you are actively making her good, and actively working to be on her side.

• Try "layered listening" where you focus on sound, then listen for a sound farther away, and again, and again until you are hearing as far as you can see. Metaphorically, you can use this technique listening to people as well -- what can you hear beneath the surface of their words?

• Create a sound/listening map where you chart everything you hear.

• Practice listening by drawing pictures of the words you hear.

• There are many variations on "back-to-back" listening -- for instance, partners sit back-to-back; one person tells a story and the other person draws illustrations.

• Listen to "Peter and the Wolf" to learn the sounds of various instruments; then practice identifying those instruments in other pieces of music.

• Next time an argument starts, grab a video camera and tape yourselves -- it will probably shorten the fight and change the way you interact. Use the "this is on record" technique to moderate future disagreements.

• Visit a construction site, a park, a mall, a playground. Write in your journal about the differences in the noise levels, rhythms, and the kinds of sounds you noticed.


Joshua Freedman is the Director of Programs for Six Seconds is a nonprofit educational service organization supporting emotional intelligence in families, schools, corporations, and communities. He is also the coordinator of the Nexus EQ Conference.

2000 Handle With Care Emotional Intelligence Activity Kit / Calendar, Freedman, Jensen, Rideout, Freedman. San Francisco: Six Seconds, 1998. ISBN0-9629123-5-2. The calendar explores 12 themes of emotional intelligence with activities, role models, books, movies, quotes, and includes over 150 stickers and 12 postcards.

Handle With Care Emotional Intelligence Activity Book, Freedman, Jensen, Rideout, Freedman. San Francisco: Six Seconds, 1998. ISBN 0-9629123-2-8


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