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Jan 13, 2022

The Power of Listening in a Polarized World (video)

The deep connection that listening to each other well encourages is essential to human flourishing.

By Templeton Staff

"When we are listened to well, we flourish."

New research by Netta Weinstein and Guy Itzchakov is helping to build a deep and scientific understanding of what listening is, when and why it matters to the well-being of people, and in what circumstances. In this video from the Stories of Impact series, the researchers offer a look into the nuances of the listening process, exploring the roles both the speaker and the listener play in conversation. They share the conditions that facilitate listening well, and touch upon the importance of:

  • Listening to partners, children, and families, in the moment and with full attention
  • The impact of technology, eye contact, and body language on listening
  • The benefits of listening in the workplace.

Listening to Reduce Polarization

They also offer insight into the practice of high-quality listening during disagreements in order to reduce polarization. Guy Itzchakov has been intrigued over the course of his studies by "The Boomerang Effect," a phenomenon where 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.

Netta Weinstein points out that it's important while listening "to think about not just the quiet parts, but the parts where we talk. The talking is really important. Ask good questions. Try to think of questions that will benefit your speaker rather than your curiosity." Asking how questions creates a more exploratory atmosphere, as opposed to asking why questions, which elicits feelings of defensiveness and the need to explain.

A Powerful Tool to Support Human Flourishing

"In an ideal world, we listen from a place of humility," says Weinstein. She and Itzchakov hope that the listening training they've been working with will bring about change, harnessing high-quality listening as a powerful tool for reducing polarization and supporting human flourishing. They'd like to see the people that received the training "serve as social agents so one good listener can have a downstream effect that's contagious, for the family, for the workplace, and for the community," says Itzchakov.

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

Listen to a podcast featuring these researchers.

Read the transcripts from the full interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay featuring: Netta Weinstein, Associate Professor, Department Psychology, University of Reading; Guy Itzchakov,  Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Services, Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Science at the University of Haifa.

In addition to the above researchers, this video also highlights brief insights on the impact of listening from co-inventor of the Internet Dr. Vint Cerf; Bishop of Oxford Rt Revd Dr. Steven Croft; University of Pennsylvania Character Lab’s director Angela Duckworth; and internationally acclaimed musician and advocate of American culture Wynton Marsalis.

Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” videos by journalist and senior media executive Richard Sergay feature human stories and critical perspectives on breakthroughs about the universe’s big questions. The inspiring narratives and observations in these award-winning videos portray the individual and societal impacts of the projects that bring to life TWCF-supported research.