Learning to Listen

Responses to positive or challenging situations are often reactions that might make things complicated. When RJ is our way of being, our first responsibility is to look at the impact of our role in the situation. If we can reflect briefly before responding, our participation can be more empathetic and constructive.

The RFNL framework questions provide a structure for your own thinking, sharing, listening, and asking. Use some or all of them to guide your involvement in dialogue.

What happened?
What were/are you thinking?
What were/are you feeling?
What’s been the hardest thing for you?
Who has been impacted? How?
What do you need [to do] in order to go on?

Many of us respond to situations with questions that can put others on the defensive. However, to help others build empathy and understanding, it can be transformative when you begin by sharing your perspectives. Notice how the following sentence stubs are responses you give in response to the RFNL framework questions:

I noticed that …
At the time I was thinking … feeling…
Now I wonder … and feel …
This has affected me by …
The hardest thing for me is …
I really need …; I’d like to offer …

It is human nature to presume we know what another person thinks. As relational beings, our listening skills need to be very sharp and ready to respond to the problems that arise from such assumptions. The RFNL framework questions create opportunities for others to share their stories. However, asking these questions is only helpful if we are prepared to listen fully. Consider 3 types of listening that can occur:

  • Compassionate listening: Full attention to what the other is saying for the benefit of giving that person time to express their ideas & thoughts. During this type of listening, our response is to reflect to them what we heard them say to affirm our understanding.

  • Interruptive listening: We listen for a space to interrupt the other so we can share our ideas as we assume we know what the other is saying. While the other is speaking, we are thinking about what we want to say.

  • Dialogic listening: Full attention to what the other is saying with the purpose of seeking clarity. We wait to formulate our ideas until we hear the full thought of the other. We listen fully prepared to change our mind about what we were thinking and planning to do (this includes affirming our initial thoughts & plans.) Though compassionate listening is appropriate at times, in an RF culture, we strive for dialogic listening- knowing that true dialogue requires openness from all involved.

(Adapted from: Dobson, A. (2014). Listening for democracy: recognition, representation, reconciliation. Oxford University Press.)

Learning to Ask

After thinking, sharing, and listening in a dialogic manner, we are then ready to ask others the RFNL framework questions to deepen understanding and clarity. The situation will determine the process for asking the questions and might include only one or a few of the questions. These questions are open-ended; the first two reveal the past; the next three focus on the present, and the final question moves people into the future. Variations are also appropriate as long as they are open-ended and create a space where you honestly can say you, as the inquirer, don’t know the answer.