Jan 24, 2022

Listening and Human Flourishing with Profs. Guy Itzchakov and Netta Weinstein (podcast)

New scientific research into the benefits of high-quality, attentive listening and tips on how to practice it.

By Templeton Staff

This episode of the Stories of Impact podcast features a conversation about the act of listening. Researchers Netta Weinstein, Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Reading, and Guy Itzchakov, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Services at the University of Haifa are working to develop a scientific understanding of what listening is, what its benefits are, and why it matters so much to our well-being. The goal of their studies is to build a protocol of listening that can be implemented globally, in order to promote human flourishing and create a better world. Listen in as the professors discuss new scientific research into the benefits of high-quality, attentive listening, and offer tips on how to practice it.

Main points covered in this discourse:

  • It’s a myth that the speaker is the active person in the conversation, and the listener is passive. Itzchakov points out “the listener actually determines at least 50% of the conversation, or where the conversation will go using both verbal signals, such as uttering, question-asking, paraphrasing, and nonverbal behavior such as a body posture, head nodding.” Weinstein adds that because naturally when people converse they will switch back and forth in terms of the roles, so “both or all participants have the chance to be a good listener, and have the chance to be an effective speaker” and both or all drive the experience and/or outcome of the conversation. As Itchakov sums it up, “The benefits of not come from the listener or from the speaker, but from the connection, and from the chemistry that is generated between them.”
  • The Boomerang Effect Itzchakov has been intrigued over the course of his studies by the phenomenon in which people try to change the attitudes of others by arguing with them. This leads to the opposite result, creating defensiveness, says Itzchakov. The attitude of the recipient becomes even more extreme, in the opposite direction of the intention of the message provider. In contrast, “what good listeners do is they help to create that sense of safety and that sense of openness that means that defensiveness isn’t the most overpowering thing in the moment, because you’re willing to listen to me, even if just for the moment,” observes Weinstein. “That means that maybe our disagreements aren’t as fundamentally threatening to me as maybe they feel otherwise.”
  • The practice of good listening is a choice. It’s like a muscle that requires training to grow stronger, quip the researchers. Says Itzchakov: “People have an innate need to evaluate what they hear, an automatic need, and it is really hard to fight it. But a precondition for good listening is to let evaluative thoughts come and go. In order to listen well, you need to decide that this is one of your priorities.”
  • Close listening is enhanced by virtues such as humility and empathy. “What I’d love to see is more research and more understanding of how far we can take these principles,” shares Weinstein. “How much can we use listening to tackle some of the big problems that we have in society and in our relationships with other people? Without listening, we cannot do it. Listening is the foundation that we build on.”
  • Good listening does not equal agreeing with the speaker. “It’s about the positivity resonance,” says Itzchakov. “It’s about the non-judgmental attitude towards one’s freedom to express the attitudes. And I think this is where we need to invest our effort, not to have everyone think the same, because we know it won’t work, and we know that we’ll see more and more and more separation everywhere we look.”
  • People who've committed to practicing high-quality listening skills can serve as social agents. Although it takes effort to fully engage in this practice, it's worth it. Research findings reveal fully engaged listening can open people’s minds to new ways of thinking. In Itzchakov's words: “One good listener can have a downstream effect, can be contagious, for the family, for the workplace, for the community, and provide an example that then can build the process.”

Learn more about research by Netta Weinstein and Guy Itzchakov in this article they authored for Templeton World Charity Foundation’s Future of Flourishing blog: The Significance of Listening Well: Why the Listener is at the Heart of Social Agency

Watch a video featuring interviews with the researchers.

Read the transcript from the interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay, presented by podcast producer Tavia Gilbert. Featuring: Netta Weinstein, Associate Professor, Department Psychology, University of ReadingGuy Itzchakov,  Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Services, Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Science at the University of Haifa.

Built upon the award-winning video series of the same name, Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” podcast features stories of new scientific research on human flourishing that translate discoveries into practical tools. Bringing a mix of curiosity, compassion, and creativity, journalist Richard Sergay and writer / producer Tavia Gilbert shine a spotlight on the human impact at the heart of cutting-edge social and scientific research projects supported by TWCF.