This weekend I tried a new type of outreach: deep listening canvassing.
As the name implies, this approach is more about listening (and data collection) and less about talking. It had one brief opportunity for education around the non-profit that organized the canvassing, but it didn’t promote any initiative or candidate.
Being a better listener helps you support your loved ones and it makes you more effective at work. It also positions you for more effective civic engagement. How can you engage with people if you’re unable to understand them? How will you understand them if you don’t listen?
Some best practices I’ve learned between journalism school, professional development, and personal improvement work:
- Ask Open-Ended Questions
- “What did you mean by _____” is better than “Don’t you think that’s a sexist thing to say?”
- Shut Up and Stop Thinking Ahead
- If you start crafting your response as soon as someone starts speaking, you’re going to miss the insights that the other person is offering you.
- This means slowing down, and getting comfortable with moments of silence
- Don’t Yuck their Yum
- Putting someone on the defense will inhibit them from opening up to you, and again, limit the insights available to you. Avoid judgment.
- Be Aware of Your Body Language
- A friendly face makes a difference. Consider your posture, and how you’re speaking–not just what you say.
- Say “I don’t know”
- Admitting a blind spot can make you feel vulnerable, especially when talking to someone who holds an opposing view. But you’re setting the standard–that in this conversation, authenticity and truth are upheld above proving yourself to be right. If you admit not knowing the answer to one thing, you might seem more reliable on the facts you shared with confidence.
- Consider Their Vulnerabilities Too
- If you understand someone as being afraid instead of ignorant, or stupid, you’ll probably have a better opportunity to connect with them and communicate with them in a way that resonates.
- Exercise Acknowledging All Feelings as Valid Ones
- Even people who have feelings and beliefs that are factually incorrect, telling them plainly that they’re wrong is another way to close the lines of communication. Some of those factually inaccurate beliefs still shape choices–like votes. Work with those feelings you don’t agree with (or know are based on inaccuracies) by asking how your conversation partner got to this conclusion. Then, when you have an opportunity to set the record straight, it’s about a lie in a Facebook post or an old study that was later debunked and retracted–not the person’s intelligence that’s to blame.
These are all easier said than done. They’re a practice, taking time to refine and incorporate as habits. I believe that genuine connectivity and real dialogue can counter some of the extreme polarization taking place in our communities. Regardless of our politics, I think these habits will make us more connected humans. So what’s to lose?
- more on deep listening canvassing: Knock Every Door
- more on deep canvassing: Study Finds Deep Conversations Can Reduce Transgender Prejudice