By Catherine Osborne, Service Learning Ambassador

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”  — Ralph Nichols 

As we see in this Ralph Nichols quote, it is often said that to be understood is one of the greatest human needs. Therefore listening to the people within your community is one of the best ways to engage and serve. It’s crucial that you aren’t just listening to hear, but that you are listening to understand. Listening is a process and it does require effort. One of my favorite sayings is listen deeply. For me this implies listening with intention of understanding, listening to learn, and listening to fight ignorance. We must listen deeply to know how to best serve others.  Throughout this blog I will lay out some steps I have learned that help me to better listen. 

Receive openly

First, we must be open-minded and ready to receive. Receiving the information that your community, neighbors and friends are trying to convey is the beginning of engagement. You must be ready to absorb whatever they are expressing, both verbal and non-verbal. Communication can happen through observing surroundings and being aware of human emotions as well as actual conversation. It is crucial to not let yourself be distracted. There are the obvious distractions like cell phones, but also try not to be distracted by your own thoughts. Sometimes as I am listening I find myself actively thinking of how I will respond to the person I am engaging with. Whether it is thinking of advice I can give or something that I want to bring up when they are done talking. Let yourself hear their words and listen to their actions with an open and absorbent mind.

Process thoroughly

Once you have absorbed the information it is time to process what it means. Allowing time and space for ourselves to process what we have just absorbed is important. Relate what you learned from an individual or community back to your own life to help you understand. Or perhaps process the fact that you may not be able to relate on a personal level at all and think about what that means.  One of my favorite ways to help myself process and gain clarity is to ask questions. Asking intentional questions after processing is one of the best things you can do to fight ignorance as well as show that you care. Make sure to be intentional and thoughtful with your questions.

Respond intentionally

Now that you’ve listened and processed the information, it’s time to evaluate and respond. Evaluate what you just discovered through your processing. Here are some things to think about:  What have you learned? Have any of your perspectives on things been affected? How did the community or person you engaged with impact you? What in life has brought them to be where they are at in this moment? Now here are some things to consider when thinking about how to respond to what you’ve heard: Is a response even necessary? Does this community or person need you to take action on something? Or do they simply just need someone to listen and understand? Do they need you to respond through your own community? Don’t be too quick to jump to a response. The reason that listening is the most important part of communication is because without deeply listening, you will fail to provide a relevant and meaningful response. So next time you are engaging with community I challenge you to receive openly, process thoroughly, and respond intentionally. Listen deeply.