Listening as an Ally

Have you heard the expression “allyship?”  It is a relatively new term to me personally, but one that I have really come to appreciate.  For context, I’m defining an ally as someone who is not a member of the marginalized groups they support and who takes action to support those groups.  It’s not just about silent support; it’s about engagement and demonstrating one’s support. 

In this day and age where we are faced with hateful rhetoric and polarization, it seems that having and serving as allies is more important than ever.  With that in mind, I turned to Ghadeer Garcia and Mark Logan, the experts at idealect, a social innovation firm offering consulting, research, community engagement, and DEI training services to help organizations create positive change in the world.  I asked Ghadeer and Mark to share their insight for ways to begin to serve as an ally:  They suggested that we begin by simply being a good listener.

Specifically, they said, “We all like to think of ourselves as being good listeners, but ask around and you will discover that most people have had the experience of feeling like they were not heard, leaving them with feelings of being left out or with needs unmet. This can be especially true for individuals and groups that have historically been overlooked, disregarded, and forgotten. As allies, it is imperative that we have strong, effective listening skills in order to position ourselves to serve those whom we are fighting for.”

Being a good listener doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Fortunately, listening is a skill that can be developed with practice and application.  Here are five tips from idealect for strengthening our listening skills:

  1. Use Comprehensive Listening (listen to learn and to understand).  Comprehensive listening is about interpreting the words and ideas of the speaker. It requires you to bring all of your senses and attention to the process.
  2. Set aside Critical Listening (listening to scrutinize or analyze).  Critical listening is a style of listening that we use when we are trying to decide if someone is telling the truth or not. Making judgments during listening can be a barrier to understanding another person.
  3. W.A.I.T.  (Why Am I Talking). Often, we are uncomfortable with silence in conversation, especially when the topic is challenging. This is when our discomfort encourages us to start filling the silence with language that centers ourselves or can be problematic in other ways. If you find yourself talking more than you should, ask yourself, “Why am I talking?” If the answer isn’t clear, it might be time to stop and listen.
  4. Resist the impulse to solve the problem (check-in — what is the desired action).  Wanting to be helpful and immediately tackle the problem is not always the best course of action. What does the situation look like and what does the person/people experiencing the situation need? Is this a place for you to act or to listen and learn more? How will you know?
  5. Reflect (What was said, what was shown, what did you observe, what did you feel).  Here is an opportunity for you to slow down and think about what you know versus what you think you know or heard about the situation. Ask yourself what’s going on in your own thoughts and feelings and what the next best action might be.

So, go on, allies…  Happy Listening.  Happy Networking!

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