A Collection of Thoughts

Questions for Listening

You won’t learn nearly as much talking as you do listening.
Pay more attention this week. What questions can you ask so that you learn something new every day?

—Ink+Volt 2018 Planner

This was the weekly prompt from my Ink+Volt planner for September 10 to 16, and I wanted to record my responses here for several reasons. Firstly, I find that the initial statement is overwhelmingly true for me—I love sitting in on discussions and just listening to well-informed people talk. While I definitely feel impulses to join in on conversations, if I can rein myself in, I learn so much about the subject (and about other people) if I just listen. That being said, I know that I don’t listen enough. I jump in with my own thoughts, or I’m too frustrated by what I’m hearing to continue trying to listen, or I’m listening to the surface statements but forgetting to listen more deeply. Hopefully my answers to the prompt will help me become a better listener and enrich my understandings of other people.

What questions can you ask so that you learn something new every day?

  • Why do I feel this way?
    • What external circumstances are influencing my reaction to this? Internal circumstances?
  • Why do other people feel this way?
    • What external circumstances are influencing their reaction to this? Internal circumstances?
  • What is the other person trying to accomplish? — This question is one that I particularly want and need to keep asking, especially in my digital work with faculty and students. I find that many of my frustrations come from not asking this question, and thus not fully understanding why someone wants to do something a particular way.
  • What don’t I know about this? What information am I missing? — As with the previous question, this is one that I need to keep asking.  I often assume that what I know is what I know, and for whatever reason, there isn’t a need to push beyond that—to think that perhaps there is more to a situation than what I already know. I am so comfortably situated in my own environment that it’s sometimes difficult for me to see that someone else’s environment may be completely different—or it may be the same as my own, but it brings someone else a very different and distinct set of challenges.
  • What assumptions am I making?
  • How does my privilege affect this situation? How does it affect my point of view? What blind spots does it bring?
  • Does this help me? Does it help others?
    • How can I productively focus my energy? — One of the most difficult things for me to do is to focus any negative or unpleasant energy on a productive task. I’ve nested this question under “Does this help me/others?” because I find that not focusing my energy (or focusing it on something unproductive) doesn’t help me or anyone else.
  • What invisible labor is being done here? By whom? — As a staff member at a public, state institution of higher education, the issue of invisible labor is, for better or for worse, an integral part of my job. In my experience, most faculty and administrators are blind to the invisible labor that comprises the daily jobs of staff members, so it’s very important to me to recognize the invisible labor that people are doing. More broadly, as a citizen of the United States, it is paramount to recognize that our nation has almost entirely been built by invisible labor, by the tasks that we and our forefathers and our foremothers put upon the backs of other, marginalized groups of people.
  • Am I showing/practicing empathy in this situation? If not, how can I better practice empathy?
  • How can I best address a situation that I view as problematic while still respecting the viewpoint and/or identity of someone else?
  • Why does that work the way it works? — This question is less serious than the rest, but it’s still very important. It’s a question that I often ask when I’m working with digital tools, whether they be WordPress or something from Knightlab. I want to understand the way a tool works, but I also want to understand why a tool works a certain way. Understanding the “why” helps me better understand the tool, as well as more general principles of digital spaces.

Of course, asking myself these questions each day (or just a couple of these questions) isn’t even half the battle. The largest battle for me is being mindful and self-aware enough to give myself a space in which I can begin asking and thinking about these questions. So often I press myself to keep moving forward that I don’t leave much space for deep listening or introspection.

What questions do you ask yourself each day?

1 Comment

  1. One can learn a lot from listening. I find that when I interject my own comments, it can disrupt the flow of my learning. One thing that works for me is to write notes of what you wanted to interject, and save them to ask later.

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