This is one of the most important skills students need to develop. It transcends and affects all the skills and attributes of emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, most individuals develop poor listening habits in early childhood that shape their listening skills for the rest of their lives. As a component of one’s emotional intellect, listening adds value in two critical areas. First, it is the primary skill necessary for developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships. It is through good listening that we express caring, that we let others know how much we value them and the things they share with us, it is the most important element in establishing trust with others, and it lets those we listen to know that we are willing to give time, our most important possession, to attending to what they have to say. This and our nonverbal abilities add far more to the value of our communication and relationships than words alone.
Second, skillful listening is a principal means of learning. It is required to gain emotional and cognitive competencies, and its absence impedes learning and destroys communication.
Sadly, listening skills, though often acknowledged, are seldom taught. In all Sharing Circles listening skills are either principal objectives or secondary outcomes of every discussion in which students engage. Listening skills develop only through good modelling and continued practice, and as with language, these skills are more easily learned when young that at any other time in life.
Just as Sharing Circles provide a process for students to learn about themselves through self-expression and exploration, it also teaches students how to be good listeners. The rules of listening to the person who is speaking, without probing, put-downs, or interruptions demand that each student give active attention to the speaker. Through the regular practice of good listening skills and the positive modeling of active listening by the teacher or counselor leading the circle, the students begin to internalize good listening habits.
The key to all of this is adherence to the rules and, of course, regular participation in the Sharing Circle process. Skills and knowledge are developed over time through regular, sustained participation. These benefits are the same for all ages from elementary through high school and beyond.