Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Lip Service Listening

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I recently wrote a post recommending a new approach to listening. This post attempts to concisely explain a kind of surface listening I see around me often. I call it “lip service listening”.

Briefly, it is when someone realizes they should be listening to another person’s ideas, and they want to show they are listening by outwardly amplifying that work, but in reality they have not deeply absorbed the work or engaged with the ideas. Person A is the listener. Person B is the person whose idea they pay lip service to.

For example:

  1. Person A constantly includes Person B in Twitter lists of people they appreciate but never engage with their ideas in specific ways, like actually quoting something they wrote
  2. Person A cites Person B’s work in articles but after the citation, proceeds to ignore person B’s ideas in the rest of the article. It *looks* as if Person A has cited Person B, but it is a technical citation. Ticking a box. Not a real engagement with the ideas. Occasionally, this includes misappropriation or misunderstandings of Person B’s ideas (so actually looks like engaging with the ideas but actually does not use them the way Person B intended. Tricky one).
  3. Person A invites Person B to be part of a group or team. But the team continues to work exactly as they have before person B came, which makes it difficult if not impossible for Person B’s different ideas to be included or integrated at all

The funny thing is that Person A is probably genuinely recognizing the importance of engaging with person B’s ideas, but unable to go beyond the surface and it’s a tokenizing type of listening and a showing off of their ability to listen. Like, that they need to give evidence that they listened. Hence the lip service.

Bet you have seen this quite a bit, eh?

6 Comments

  1. There’s so much to be learned by listening that it might be a discipline in itself. Often my own thoughts get in the way–or is the need to be heard? I think we learn by observation that those in the room whose mouths move the most get the credit or being in charge.
    Anyway, need to read the paper you and Autumm authored and comment wisely instead of just responding with my usual ready made responses.

    You mentioned parenting in your New Approach for Listening blog and thought you and other Mom’s might like this:
    Motherhood is the most complex topic I have ever reported on. And yet it has been treated as niche and unimportant.
    By Hillary Frank
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/31/opinion/childbirth-injury-motherhood-misogyny.html

    Scott

    • Thanks for the link, Scott! Just love the excerpt already. Also – the article Autumm and I wrote doesn’t focus on listening… i was writing about listening because i felt people who don’t listen well wouldn’t “get it”

  2. Hi, Maha, thanks for this…the phrase “lip service listening” resonated with me, both around citation practices and in terms of the types of online interactions on Twitter and elsewhere that seem like dialogue but are really people talking past one another.

    I’m working on a short piece on the possibility of radical listening in digital spaces, and in my nascent understanding of radical listening, it sounds like exactly the opposite of lip service listening. Sharing in case it’s of interest: “radical listening involves consciously valuing others by attempting to hear what the speaker is saying for the meaning he or she intends, rather than the meaning the listener interprets through his/her own view of the world.” (Winchell, Kress, and Tobin, 2016, p. 5 – https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-25847-8_10). In another piece, Tobin directly addresses scholarly citation, saying that a form of radical listening to a text would be for an author to “make every attempt to establish what the excerpt means in the larger context in which it is published” (Tobin, 2009, p. 507) before entering into dialogue with it within the context of the author’s own work. Interesting stuff.

    • Thanks so much for this, Sarah. Reading this made me think about how online spaces that allow us to engage with an author in sustained ways via their blogs or Twitter make us understand their more formal writing or speaking in context…vs what happens when you just read a quote by them but not the broader work or context. I look forward to reading your own piece once it’s out…but thanks for your comment and the link. My next blogpost (published yday i think) ties listening with epistemic injustice. Unsure if you would find it useful, but thought I would mention it

  3. Thanks Maha – and thank you to Scott and Sarah too for their additional inks…
    Just a thought – whilst I absolutely take your point – I do think that some of this ‘drive by’ listening – and reading – is also linked to the high workloads and higher expectations placed upon academics – and thus the ‘burnout’ we all suffer from. We just don’t have the quality time, the slow time (https://theslowacademic.com/2016/11/14/first-blog-post/) to actually be proper academics at all. So for some of us this shadow academia – where we just barely hang on to doing any listening/reading – let alone radical or slow or active listening/reading – feels like as good as it gets?

    • Umm yeah. But you listen more easily to what you have been exposed to, so there is that systemic issue. Read my next post on epistemic injustice 🙂

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