Who’s listening?

Innovative Higher Education, Feb 2014

Libby V. Morris

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Who’s listening?

- I just read an interesting short piece in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network about listening. The article, Three Ways Leaders Can Listen with More Empathy, (http://blogs.hbr. org/2014/01/three-ways-leaders-can-listen-with-more-empathy/), was penned by Christine Riordan, Provost and Professor of Management at the University of Kentucky and former professor at the University of Georgia in the Terry College of Business. The article captured my attention because of the title and its reference to the almost forgotten and nearly quaint skill of listening. While listening was once considered an important competence and was emphasized in general education along with written and verbal communication skills, the art and skill of listening have declined in practice and seemingly in importance in recent years. The ascendance of active learning, texting, tweeting, and asynchronous online education, along with a host of other social media and educational practices, has rendered listening as a lower-order skill. Self-expression and rapid communication tend to crowd out the careful listener. The Millennial Generation (sometimes called the me generation) and Generation Z increasingly rely on asynchronous communication and visual representation of ideas and emotions. Communication is dominated by platforms that elevate the visual over the auditory (well, maybe not for music) and encourage abbreviated written communication. U know? Lest I sound like a curmudgeon, however, you should know that I, too, am an occasional user of social media platforms and can see value in those forms of expressions. Over the past two to three decades, lectures have been the focus of many reform efforts within the academy. It was not necessarily that lectures were bad, but listening is so difficult and learning passively was challenging. However, as I was reminded by Riordans blog, listening should be active. Whether we believe classroom lectures can or should be continued, higher education institutions have clearly come down on the side of the lecture for important occasions, as we continue to invite distinguished scholars to give lectures to honor important constituents and to share cutting edge research. While the one minute lecture has claimed quite a few adherents, we would not ask an important lecturer to give a 15-minute speech, just so we could keep the audience interested. Maybe those who attend lecturers are active listeners; and, importantly, they may have a disciplinary context for listening. Generally, however, the inability to listen is demonstrated in small and large meetings across our campuses and in our classrooms. Also, on a daily basis, television and radio talk show hosts and participants, ranging from the politically oriented to entertainment-focused,

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Libby V. Morris. Who’s listening?, Innovative Higher Education, 2014, 1-2, DOI: 10.1007/s10755-014-9283-6