Listening: A Lesson from “New” Coke

In 2013, Susan Eliot posted a terrific piece on listening (a common theme on her blog The Listening Resource*) titled “Listening For Versus Collecting Data.”  In it, she talks about the power imbalance – and, I would add, the insensitive mindset – implied by the idea that researchers are “collecting data from subjects” compared to the more useful notion that we are new coke2listening “one human to another.”  Eliot goes on to cite Martin Buber and his distinction of I-Thou and I-It interactions or relationships between people, with Eliot stating “When we look upon the other person as a ‘thou’ (a unique, sentient human being) rather than an ‘it’ (a data repository), we approach the research with a humanistic perspective, one that is likely to net us rich and meaningful data.”

Extolling the virtues of listening seems almost trite (we all claim to “listen” in some shape or form) yet why is it so difficult?  It is difficult, not only among researchers where listening is (should be) a required skill but, among all of us where listening is a fundamental component of human interaction.

The October 18, 2013 NPR TED Radio Hour program “Haves and Have-Nots” presents two important examples on the importance of listening and, more particularly, the negative effects of not listening well.  The first is a TED talk given by Ernesto Sirolli titled “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!” where he tells the story of an ill-fated attempt to teach people in Zambia Read Full Text