Ethical listening is a vital skill to learn as we navigate our professional and personal lives both during and after college. According to Dr. Katie R. Place, a Public Relations professor at Quinnipiac University, dialogue is the foundation to becoming proficient in ethical listening and building interpersonal relationships.  

“One thing colleagues and I are developing right now is the sense of ethical listening as dialogue,” Dr. Place says. “And really making sure that we’re engaged in dialogue with a company or an individual, that it’s underscored by particular values, such as a sense of an ethic of care, a sense of justice, a sense of humility.” 

In other words, we should not be aloof or nonchalant, but devoted to a sincere interest in those around us. We should be committed to uplifting every voice equally, humbly acknowledging our limitations and biases when attempting to understand their messages. 

Incorporating these values within the college context can manifest in a variety of ways, such as collaborating with peers for group projects, socializing with friends and acquaintances, or serving our communities through volunteer work. 

One of the inevitabilities of the college experience is group projects, and for many students these assignments can be daunting or tedious. Even so, learning cooperation and communication in group settings is an invaluable life skill which can be more easily mastered by applying ethical listening.  

Perhaps there is a person in the group who takes charge without accounting for the others’ insights and ideas. Or conversely, a person who refuses to contribute and resigns themselves to laziness and apathy. In such scenarios, regardless of where we fall on the spectrum between these two extremes, it is imperative that we learn to be active and attentive. 

According to a course by Lumen Learning, “An ethical listener is one who actively interprets shared material and analyzes the content and speaker’s effectiveness. Good listeners try to display respect for the speaker.”  

A person who is more domineering and vocal should focus on being attentive to the voices of their colleagues and being slower to speak. As Dr. Place says, “We need to make sure that we’re not just coming to these business relationships with an agenda and ‘Here’s what I wanna pounce on you.’” 

In addition to attentiveness, vocal people should use their voice and assumed leadership to include those who are more passive and reserved, inviting them to share their opinions and encouraging them to participate. For those who are slower to contribute, it means being active in looking beyond themselves in service of the group’s goals. 

Ethical listening can also aid us when we interact with others, regardless of whether they are close friends or mere acquaintances. Removing distractions such as noise, electronic devices or bias are crucial for achieving this. Showing intentionality and focus when others speak to us makes them feel valued and in turn tightens interpersonal bonds. 

Most important of all, we should learn to pause. “I think one thing personally I’m trying to do more is pause,” Dr. Place said. “And I think that pause, when I’m in a conversation…or when I’m teaching or when I’m researching, it really shows that I am setting up this intentional space to listen just to you.” 

In addition to socializing, Dr. Place believes that self-reflection through journaling and analyzing how our work impacts our communities at large is integral in our preparation to enter the workforce. “I think that’s a great start to become more ethical in terms of your listening and thinking through how you’re going to communicate as a professional one day,” Dr. Place said. 

We should also strive to be active in our communities beyond our work through volunteering. “One of my personal goals is to always try to be a good citizen or member of my community, so I try as much as I can to go and volunteer or be part of the community in some way. And I think that always keeps me connected to the needs of the community.” 

All in all, being connected to our communities by incorporating the values of ethical listening into our daily lives will positively shape our college experience. Listening ethically to others strengthens social bonds, creating a tight-knit network that gives us a sense of belonging.