** Guest post, written by Rebbecca Laycock, PhD Candidate, Keele University and Project Assistant for Sustainable Food Systems, Blekinge Institute of Technology **
Who is this Listening Project for? In short, everyone. I believe everyone can be a better listener. But I also think it’s wrong to pretend that we all would equally benefit from developing our listening skills. Like any skill, it can be practiced, and those who practice tend to be better at it. And those who don’t practice tend to be worse.
Listening has always been a political issue for me. Men and women have been socialised to communicate differently , and this phenomenon is increasingly recognised in popular culture, particularly since the adoption of ‘Mansplaining’ into the public lexicon. Mansplaining occurs occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to does. Like many women, I recognised this problem much earlier than I had a name for it. There are other axes of difference (like cultural background, discipline of study, degree of extro-/introversion) which predispose people to be better or worse listeners. But gender is one that has most affected me which is why I write about it.
We are up against some challenges in developing universal competence in listening.
One reason for this is listening is undervalued (at least in the UK!). Anyone who has taken a university-level programme can attest to the amount of time spent developing presentation skills, or debating skills, or negotiating skills… but when was the last time you heard of a session for developing listening skills?
Being a good listener is also often viewed as a feminine trait, which can discourage people who don’t think of themselves as feminine to develop their listening skills. Or it can discourage people from taking part in projects about listening… at least, if the Listening Project is any example! The project team is made up entirely of women. Is this because women are more likely than men to put themselves forward for something that requires listening? It’s here that I can’t help but wonder if the (often unconscious) belief that women are the listeners and the fact that listening is undervalued is part of the reason why women don’t progress to senior roles in academia (and elsewhere, for that matter!). Is it because the importance of listening is diminished in our patriarchal society? And if that’s true, how do we get people who don’t see the value in listening to actually listen? I hope that this is one of the things that the listening project helps us to understand, because listening is something for everyone, and everyone can be a better listener.
Solnit, R. (2014). Men explain things to me. Haymarket Books.