Civil Discourse: The Freedom to Listen

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Featured Speakers: 

  • Amanda G. McKendree, Associate Teaching Professor of Management and Arthur F. and Mary J. O’Neil Director of The Eugene D. Fanning Center for Business Communication, Department of Management & Organization, University of Notre Dame
  • Dr. Lisbeth A. Lipari, Professor in the Department of Communication, Denison University

The second virtual event in the Civil Discourse series focused on a conversation about being a better listener. The discussion was moderated by Amanda G. McKendree and featured Lisbeth A. Lipari. Lipari shared a formal presentation and answered questions from viewers on inner, outer, and free listening. She then guided viewers through some practical exercises to practice better listening. 

In Lipari’s presentation she defined inner, outer, and free listening. Inner listening calls individuals to notice and pay attention to their feelings, thoughts, emotions, and other sensations freely and without judgment. Outer listening refers to the process of listening to others’ intended meaning. Our own personal experiences may filter and interpret what another is saying. However, we cannot let that cloud the action of listening closely. Lastly, free listening is a form of empathic listening where we focus on making people feel heard. Free listening includes listening to diverse thoughts and opinions and, according to Lipari, often takes practice and stamina to achieve. 

McKendree asked Lipari to describe why these three types of listening are important today. Lipari believed these three methods help us to better listen without always needing to understand. She said that the reason society is so polarized today is because we do not talk to each other or listen to those with opposing views. McKendree followed up with another question on how to connect with people of differing opinions. Lipari mentioned an organization called Braver Angels, which seeks to unite Americans on different ends of the political system to band together to depolarize the country.

Lipari propelled the discussion by guiding participants through some practical exercises in listening. One of the exercises involved taking a few minutes to listen and notice one’s inner thoughts. This was a practice in inner listening. Some participants shared that sitting silently with their own thoughts felt uncomfortable. Lipari acknowledged this common feeling, but reminded participants that if they seek comfort all the time, they will never grow. Other participants found their minds going in a million directions. Lipari also acknowledged this feeling. She thought that in today’s world where our attention is a commodity in advertising and media, the idea of sitting silently still in the moment can be quite difficult.

The second exercise Lipari guided was a practice in outer listening This required viewers to watch a short video debate about smart drugs. The video included short clips of opposing sides offering their viewpoints. While watching, Lipari asked viewers to attempt to intentionally listen to all the thoughts rather than devising their own responses to the video. Some participants found this exercise to be difficult as well. It was difficult for some to keep their minds from forming their own thoughts instead of listening clearly. 

These exercises uncovered the challenges individuals face while trying to be active listeners. However, Lipari believed that these exercises get easier with practice. While it is complex and idealistic, it is still something to be strived for.

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  • Listening itself constitutes discourse as much as speaking.
  • Free listening is a goal and an ideal that we should all be striving toward.
  • If we have a norm of active listening, we will be more successful conversation partners.
  • If we seek comfort in our ideas, we will never grow or learn.

  • “The freedom to listen to others, to truly listen, begins with the freedom to listen to ourselves.” Lisbeth Lipari, 10:11
  • “The focus on listening as argument takes away our ability to comprehend what the other is actually saying to us.” Lisbeth Lipari, 15:00
  • “Listening is undoubtedly complex. This is an ideal to strive for. Does it get easier? Absolutely. The more we become aware, the more we practice, the better we will be at listening and understanding, but also the more we will recognize our limits.” Lisbeth Lipari, 51:42
  • “For me, one of the the key points that emerged was the idea of being intentional, intentional about your listening habits and practices, and making a commitment to continuing to develop, learn more, and recognize the uncomfortable notion of it all.” — Amanda McKendree, 57:05

Amanda McKendreedigest165Eugene D. Fanning Center for Business CommunicationUniversity of Notre Dame