21 Listening Skills for Pluralistic Communities:
A Checklist to Improve your Abilities
Your own diverse community can be a practical learning laboratory for developing your listening skills. After you complete this checklist, you can use the results to decide which skills to work on next.
● Please write in the name of a diverse community or situation you are associated with: ________________________________________
● Please check the most important items below that you would like to work on:
1. SHIFTING PERSPECTIVE
Work on the ability to “step into the shoes” of the other person in order
to see things from his/her perspective.
Learn to accept ambiguity. It helps! Communication is rarely crystal clear. Switching gears from the values of one faith or culture to another can be confusing.
Learn to recognize the ways that people from different faith and cultural backgrounds
may inadvertently be insulting to each other. What one faith or culture considers as appropriate another may experience as insulting.
4. LANGUAGE GAPS
When there is a language gap:
a. Learn to recognize the fact that the other person may feel frustrated in making him/herself understood.
b. Learn to realize that listening to a foreign language is easier than speaking it.
c. Realize how to frequently and respectfully check out whether you are being understood or are using unfamiliar words, idiomatic expressions, words with unfamiliar connotations, an unfamiliar accent. Are you talking too fast?
d. Learn to make an effort to learn a few words and phrases in the other person’s language.
5. EVERYONE’S CONCERN
Learn how to make accommodations to another faith or culture. Change is a concern for all and not only the “other’s” concern.
6. STRENGTH IN DIVERSITY
Learn to build on the strengths within a diverse group.
Learn how to look for commonalities, shared concerns and shared hopes. There are often similarities in age, family and interests that transcend religious or ethnic cultural differences.
Learn to recognize the personal, professional and business benefit to becoming more skilled in improving interfaith and intercultural communication. This improved communication is the road to world peace.
9. DEVOTING ENERGY
Consider how spending some extra time and effort with a person(s) from a faith or cultural background that differs from your own could be beneficial and fun. Could you share a meal? Visit each other’s place of worship?
Learn to focus on the individual and don’t expect him/her to be just one of “them”. Use your knowledge about a person’s faith or cultural background as an initial way to know him/her better as an individual. Again, expect to give up many of your preconceptions.
Develop some genuine interests and learn about the different faith and cultural backgrounds (food, art, philosophy, history, sports, etc.) of your clients, colleagues, neighbors and community.
Learn to recognize how your generalizations become stereotypes. Be ready to change
Realize how your own background influences how you think, feel, and behave just as
others’ backgrounds influence them. You could work to:
a. Discover how your own background may be subtly influencing the way you think, feel, and behave.
b. Become aware of the attitudes and “messages” you receive from your background. Decide which attitudes to keep and which to reconsider.
c. Realize that everyone has their own value priorities and that yours are not necessarily better than “others”.
Learn to recognize what you are not paying attention to and what you are “reading into” a situation. Everyone interprets, screens out and distorts much information from their experiences.
Learn to recognize when you may be expecting others to act like those of your own faith or culture. When others don’t act as we expect them to, we sometimes blame them and may attribute their behavior to an “inferior” background.
16. HIDDEN MESSAGES
Recognize how you are communicating rather than just focusing on the content of what you are saying. Pay attention to the various “hidden messages” you are, perhaps inadvertently, sending out to others.
17. BODY LANGUAGE
Learn to “listen between the lines” by paying close attention to yours and the other person’s gestures, intonations, body language, etc. Learn to recognize cultural differences in body language.
Good natured humor can go a long way, but be cautious of jokes – they are easily
misunderstood and can cause confusion.
Learn to correctly pronounce a person’s unfamiliar sounding name. Ask about the
origin and meaning of the name. Find out how that person would prefer to be
addressed. A small gesture such as this can mean a lot.
These differences are often found among people from different faith and cultural
backgrounds. Which ones would you like to become better at responding to?
a. pace of life
c. respect and politeness
d. emotional expressiveness
e. freedom, privacy, individualism, self reliance, self-directed behavior
f. informality, neatness
g. superior vs. subordinate relationships
Which of these ways of bridging faith and cultural differences would you like to improve upon?
a. really listening
b. checking out your perceptions
c. seeking feedback
d. resisting rigid judgments
e. being willing to take risks
f. cultivating your own self-awareness
Learning and Practicing These Listening Skills:
1. Please place an asterisk – * – beside the 3 or so items above that you are ready to begin working on.
2. In what diverse groups or situations could you work on learning and
practicing these skills?____________________________
3. Please list some of the next steps you could take to work on these abilities:
Robert C. Smith, Ph. D., Board Member: August,2011 firstname.lastname@example.org