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Why Radical Listening Is Essential To Allyship + How To Practice

We all have different listening skills and listening styles. The process of listening begins with receiving, interpreting, recalling, evaluating, and responding. At that first moment of listening, we receive a message. From there, we often interpret the information, recalling what we hear and evaluating what we believe to be the truth in the story. The danger in interpreting other people’s experiences is that once you’re done listening to the story, your brain can trick you into creating scenarios of what an individual may or may not need based on your evaluation of their circumstances.

This is why it’s important to understand what listening is and what your listening style is. It’s also important to note that the listening process doesn’t have a definite start or finishing point. We know that our brains can hold large amounts of information for a long period of time. According to the book Making Conflict Suck Less, “Sensory storage is very large in terms of capacity but limited in terms of length of storage. We can hold large amounts of unsorted visual information but only for about a tenth of a second. By comparison, we can hold large amounts of unsorted auditory information for longer–up to four seconds.”

When we break down the process of listening, we can slowly begin to see our own blind spots when it comes to how we hear and interpret the world. It is also important to recognize the different types of listening and listening styles, which include the discriminative, informational, critical, and empathic.

In the work of co-conspiratorship, the goal is to engage in all four types of listening. When you are on a social media livestream, participating in a workshop, or listening to a podcast, you are moving through informational and discriminative listening. You’re receiving information, processing, and deciphering how to utilize it for your journey. You are critically listening when you are taking in information and critiquing what you know is true on the journey ahead.

Lastly, you are empathic listening when you are working to understand and feel where the speaker is coming from. For example, when someone asks, “Do you feel me?” and you actually do, connecting not just into their words, or your intellectual understanding of them, but into their lived emotional experience, where you do indeed “feel them,” that means you’re empathically receiving and connecting to the message that is being shared with you. Empathic listening is also key for the connection and community building necessary for this work.

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