Even though we were not in the comforts of Marquette University Law School, I had to put the students back a classroom during a few stops on our trip. The first classroom experience came at Hebrew University, in a class led by Professor Avi Kluger, an expert in listening. (and the title of this blog came from one of our students describing the first exercise in which we had to follow the hand motions of our partner.) As I was paired with my rather tall RA Sean McCarthy (and many of us were mismatched in this way), this particular exercise was really rather funny and started all of us off laughing. A great classroom icebreaker.
Student Alex Suprise recapped the different experiential learning activities that Professor Kluger guided us through after that:
First, Professor Kluger led us through some storytelling exercises, which proved rather effective at teaching us how well (or badly) we listen. For each of these exercises, we would sit with a partner while Professor Kluger instructed us to talk about specific topics; for example, the stories behind our names. We rotated partners for each conversation, making our way through about five partners in total. During one of the conversations, Professor Kluger instructed the listening partner to act extremely bored by checking his/her phone, etc., while the speaking partner talked about the most amazing thing that had ever happened to him/her. In another session, the speaking partner was to tell a mundane story while the listening partner acted fascinated by what he/she was hearing. In yet another session, the listening partner was to remain totally silent, asking no questions and giving no input on the story. All these exercises served to teach us about our own personal listening habits.
After we completed the exercises, Professor Kluger invited the class to share what they had learned about themselves. Many students commented that they had found it hard to listen silently and not say a word while the speaker was telling a story; these students may have been bad listeners, or conversely, they may have been accustomed to engaging a speaker during conversation. Additionally, one student commented that she was made to feel insignificant and insecure when her listener constantly looked at his phone while she told a story about the most amazing thing that had happened to her. Confirming this sentiment, Professor Kluger stated that research has shown that “people can sense when you are not listening 100 percent.”
My personal experience echoed the thoughts others had voiced. I, too, had noticed that when I was telling the story about the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me, I felt quite insulted when my partner kept looking at his phone and generally seeming disinterested in what I had to say. And while I found it somewhat difficult to keep quiet while listening, I still smiled and nodded, which is all I really had to do in order to engage with the speaker. I suppose it would have been nice to have been able to ask questions of the speaker, but questions always risk bringing the focus elsewhere; smiling and nodding was perhaps a more effective and respectful listening tactic. Perhaps it was Professor Kluger’s intention for us to make this realization from staying silent while listening.
Professor Kluger then gave an excellent presentation on listening throughout history as well as why we should seek to be better listeners. According to Professor Kluger, research has shown that one habit of successful people is that they seek to understand before they seek to be understood. “Just listening will make you more complex,” explained Professor Kluger. He went on to say that effective salespeople are virtually always effective listeners. Listening can come with its downsides, however—for instance, it is commonly associated with lower social status. This is because, often, people who like to talk about themselves and how great they are rise to the top of the social totem pole. People who listen, on the other hand, are not of the nature to interrupt others and brag about themselves. The result is that obnoxious people who refuse to listen can be more “popular” than good listeners.
While some may value popularity, listening leads to more intimate and rewarding relationships, which I think are of greater value. “When you listen to the troubles of another, you draw out his own wisdom,” stated Professor Kluger. This quote in particular I found to be very true. Too many people overlook the wisdom they can gain from merely listening to others’ perspectives. They apparently do not realize that you remain closed-minded when you limit your outlook only to that which you have experienced personally. By listening to others’ experiences and opinions, however, you expand your mind. As Professor Kluger said earlier, you become more complex by merely listening. Of course, you make the speaker feel better about himself/herself when you listen, so it really benefits you both.
One last quote from Professor Kluger’s presentation that struck a chord with me came courtesy of Proverbs 20:5. This verse reads: “Listen to your enemy.” Listening is a skill so vital that it was even discussed in the Bible, which many consider to be divinely inspired. That is pretty powerful, if you ask me.
Another student reflected on how the activities at Hebrew University brought the class closer together:
Even while on spring break, law students are never really out of school. This was one of the most interactive classes I have ever been a part of, and also very thought provoking. The focus of this class was active listening techniques.
I know active listening games take a few of us back to first grade, but these games were very interesting and very important for us for a two reasons. 1) We were only a few days into the trip and these games forced us to get to know each other and 2) applying these listening techniques to a wider context (the Arab-Israeli conflict) led to a thought provoking discussion. We played five active listening games in total and switched partners after each game: the hand game, an interesting story about one’s name, allowing your partner to monologue for three minutes while listening in complete silence, actively ignoring your partner, and trying to make a boring story interesting.
The purpose of the hand game was offer and acceptance; the second game allowed us to share our identities; being silent forced active listening without interjection; the “ignoring drill” taught us the difficulty of multitasking and effectively listening; and the “boring story” drill was designed to create more meaning in stories.
The class on the whole was very interesting and impeccably well timed. Having this class so early in the trip was a perfect icebreaker that the class desperately needed. Additionally, it was very important to go back to basic listening techniques so early in the trip because we were meeting with dozens of speakers over the following week. I may not have consciously taken these techniques with me into meeting each speaker, but I was more open-minded and engaged than I usually am when bombarded with lecture after lecture.