Respecting Each Other As Thinkers

I’m experimenting with ideas from Nancy Kline’s Time To Think.  She discusses the importance of listening with undivided attention and respect, as a condition for helping people think well.  She asks people to keep their eyes on the speaker, using your face and body to show respect for their thinking.

In class today, I discussed the difference between critiquing the ideas and critiquing the person — that we aren’t here to agree thoughtlessly with everything anyone says, but to discuss (and possibly disagree with) ideas while respecting people as thinkers.

I asked students to show me, with their body and face, what it looks like if you do and do not respect someone.  Here’s what they did.

How to Show Disrespect and Inattention

  • Chat to each other
  • Take out your phone
  • Put your head down on desk
  • Face palm (or worse… DOUBLE face palm!)
  • Hide your eyes or look away

How to Show Respect and Full Attention

  • Eyes on speaker
  • Take notes
  • Smile
  • Ask questions
  • Add comments
  • Back and forth conversation, and (perhaps surprisingly)
  • Use friendly humour

I challenged us to use these techniques to convey our attention and respect as students presented their research.  So far conversations are lively: lots of questions, people are chiming in with supporting evidence, and wondering aloud.  They also joked and let their imagination run a bit with metaphors and analogies.  Sometimes the students asked me to summarize or synthesize if their lines of thought appeared to conflict, but mostly my role was to draw attention to positive moves like using diagrams or physically acting out electrical phenomena with their bodies, and to close the questions so that all groups would have time to present.

Improve Next Time

When someone asks a question that goes beyond the source, presenters often start presenting a new idea that seems plausible as if it’s supported by their research.  How do I help the presenter and the listeners distinguish between their wondering/remembering vs. the source’s information?

3 comments

  1. You may also want to discuss ways to show attention that do not require eye contact with the speaker. Many people are uncomfortable making eye contact, either for cultural reasons or individual ones. Insisting on this way of showing attention can be very stressful for some people.

    • Good point — there’s no question that’s true. We talked about the list above as being a sort of buffet menu, rather than a checklist. Taking notes, for example, lends itself well to looking elsewhere while maintaining focus. I will mention it explicitly though — best to make sure the students know that I know.

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