By Susan Charland
At Highland Planning we know that better dialogue leads to better decisions. That’s because dialogue is a two-way conversation. The key to a two-way dialogue is listening. By listening, we create a space for someone to tell their story.
But what does it mean to listen? Does it mean we simply look someone in the eye? Nod along while someone talks? Summarize what the other person just said? When asked about such “listening techniques,” NPR host Celeste Headlee in her TED talk entitled “Ten Ways to Have a Better Conversation,” quipped that there’s no reason to learn how to show you’re paying attention if you are, in fact, paying attention.
In the business of public engagement, paying attention to what people say is essential. At Highland, we practice active listening because it enriches dialogue. Listening creates an environment in which everyone can discuss emotional or high-stakes issues openly and honestly.
In practical terms, our commitment to this core value means we don’t ask stakeholders to sit through a 45-minute presentation before they get to ask questions. It means we design interactive meetings with large and small group activities that give every participant meaningful “talk time.” It means we always write down what people say. We pay equal attention to what is not said. We withhold judgement. And it means we provide real opportunities for people to connect with their neighbors, share their ideas, and find common ground.
This holiday season, make some time to practice your listening. Think of it as a gift. The more we give it, the more we truly connect with our fellow human beings.