Thursday, October 24, 2013

On listening in science communication

It is heartening to see more discussion of the listening side of science communication world of late. I first wrote about the topic in a 2012 article on moving toward relationship-building and engagement in science communication. A discussion with a beloved and wise person in my life spurred me to better define what I meant by listening. The result was that in the article I said:

“In truly engaged relationships, listening, with the willingness to be changed by what is heard, becomes an equally, if not more, significant part of the communication process.” (Kearns 2012)

If thought of this way, listening becomes a deeply active, dynamic process. And, what naturally follows is that learning to work with conflict is a necessity, particularly internal conflict. Because we are all individuals -- different even from people we consider to be pretty like-minded, much less those we consider as "other" -- if we listen deeply enough, we are likely to brush up against places where our experiences and beliefs are in conflict. It's natural, and we can work with it.

I will expand on the topic of conflict in another post because it really deserves its own discussion. The one thing I will say now though is that conflict gets a bad rap. Even the word itself can make people uncomfortable. But I want to stress that, if dealt with effectively, conflict leads to growth - it's as much an opportunity as a challenge.

The trick then really becomes the "deal with it effectively" part, and I plan to spend some time in further posts talking about some tools that can help, particularly in dealing with internal conflict. Indeed, there are many practices used in other fields like law, medicine, and psychology (usually those with a clinical component) that can be used to gain deeper listening relational capacity and we'll get to those soon.

Related posts:


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Okay, I just tried to delete and repost my comment as "Clarisse" and not as "Harvard Forest," but alas, I couldn't get it to work. Anyway:

      Great post, and nice article, too - thanks for sharing.

      One of the most interesting talks I've attended recently was by Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino, who studies decision-making, negotiation, ethics, motivation, productivity, and creativity. It was essentially a talk about self-perceptions and how they play out in a social context. Since I heard her speak, I have watched in near awe how I and others interact in professional situations, notably around discussions of communication. I haven't read her book, but plan to. The few insights she shared during her presentation--about how greatly our self-perceptions affect our ability to set and achieve goals, both alone and as a collective--were absolutely fascinating. These are probably concepts you've run across before, but just in case, here's her faculty page as a bookmark:

  2. Thanks Clarisse, for reading and for the comment. I've not heard of Gino but will definitely take a look - I get a lot out of some of the articles in the Harvard Business Review and find that all these communities - business, law, medicine mainly - are much farther along that we are in the "natural sciences" (I can't quite figure out how broadly to cast my net here) in terms of integrating the human element into all parts of their work, including the part I'm really interested in, which is the individual professional. Becoming mindful of personal interactions and your own role in them is an eye-opening experience for sure, the question is then, "now what"? Thanks for sharing!