August 28, 2023

A key component of building and maintaining trust is to simply listen. This is harder than it sounds, and it requires the listener to be active and present in listening. In the ARTT Response catalog, we think about listening this way:

One definition of listening is “to hear something with thoughtful attention: give consideration” (Merriam-Webster). While listening may not seem like much of a response, it is a critical part of a trust-building exchange, especially in situations where one is thinking about the possibilities for longer-term dialogue or engagement outside the immediate message being discussed. By listening silently, participants can understand more about whether to respond or how to respond.

For example, it may be that the person you want to engage with isn’t really willing or ready to discuss differences of opinion. It can also be that responding to a query only with factual answers misses cues that the message writer is sending about problems they are having.

Listening can depend on the goals of the conversation. Several types have been defined by scholars. For example, listening actively, where participants can use techniques to solicit more information from the speaker, can be a form of focused attention on another person that is helpful in democratic exchange. These are different from cataphatic listening, which focuses on how to respond in order to debate, defend, or critique.

Related concepts. One issue that has been noted related to active listening is that it may not be effective in all contexts. For example, marital researcher John Gottman and colleagues were surprised to see that this technique seemed, at times, to create more conflict; however, the subsequent debate related to two-person/dyadic and marital conversations revealed that the precise meaning of “active listening” itself can be understood differently.

In the end, listening is hard to do well and doesn't always make things better. But it can be a good tool for trust-building response.

What do you think? How can we better listen to each other online, and what are strategies to help? Let us know.

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