21-Day Better Listening Challenge©
Listening is the divine art, deliberate consciousness and disciplined practice of acknowledging others and their needs to be seen, heard, listened to, and understood ahead of our own. Imagine a world where each of us did this–put others in the center, focused on their humanity and sought to give everyone what all us desire–to be valued and appreciated for just being who we are.
Structures of supremacy, dominance, oppression, and division seek to counter the positive communicative power of effective listening. When we fail to listen to one another, division wins, hatred wins, violence wins, anger wins, racism wins, discrimination wins, prejudice wins. All of these ills and isms dominate when we cease to center the needs and humanity of others.
Start with self, breathe, so that you can then listen to the “selves” that are other people. By way of this effort, we truly can change the world by changing ourselves: we can be the change we want to see. When we get our inner selves right, we can get the world right.
We believe that you can transform not only your inner world but the outer world by transforming what goes into your mind’s ear. The gift of listening to ourselves and then the presentation of ourselves as a gift to others, particularly those who have experienced trauma, oppression, prejudices, bias, and microaggressions, can be powerful healing forces so desperately needed in our world today. Start with self and expand to other selves so that you can change not only communications and conversations but communities.
Spend time in reflection before you start this 21-day journey to assess how much time you would like to commit to this endeavor on a daily basis.
Commit. Choose an Activity. Complete. Reflect. Repeat.
Choose One Activity Per Day
To further your understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity.
Read: Encounter new writers and ideas from a range of media sources.
- Listeners as Co-Narrators by Janet Bavelas, Linda Coates, and Trudy Johnson
The authors describe an experiment where listeners interacted in different ways with “narrators”; the authors conclude that “the listeners were co-narrators both through their own specific responses, which helped illustrate the story, and in their apparent effect on the narrator’s performance.”
- Stop Asking ‘How Are You?’; Harvard Researchers Say This Is What Successful People Do When Making Small Talk by Gary Burnison
Burnison provides readers with seven useful tactics for engendering a meaningful conversation.
- Daryl Davis: the Black Musician Who Converts Ku Klux Klan Members by Morena Duwe
Duwe profiles Daryl Davis, an African-American musical artist who has talked with Ku Klux Klan members over a period of months and years; these conversations sometimes have resulted in the Klan members actually renouncing their membership in the organization.
- Listen First Conversations by Listen First Project
This is a great site for people who want to learn to listen more artfully because the project is dedicated to mending “our frayed social fabric by building relationships and bridging divides.”
- Listening Skills: How Becoming a Better Listener Will Benefit Your Career by Dawn Rosenberg McKay
Rosenberg provides readers with a variety of helpful tips about listening which she describes as “a skill that an individual can acquire and improve upon over the course of their lifetime.”
- Boost Your Career with Better Listening Skills by Cheryl Meyer
Meyer quotes three listening experts who emphasize the importance of being “compassionate and curious” when listening.
- What Deaf People Can Teach Others about Virtual Communication by Sabina Nawaz and Roberta J. Cordano
Nawaz and Cordano have worked with several deaf executives on how to communicate more effectively during online meetings, and now the authors share their tips with readers in this informative article.
- The Most Important Relationship Skill: Do You Have It? by Ashley Neese
This piece discusses listening through the lens of personal relationships, saying that “I was great at expressing my feelings and articulating my thoughts. But I was also a terrible listener.”
- Listening to People by Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens
In this comprehensive article, Nichols and Stevens touch upon a variety of listening topics including the four mental activities that good listeners engage in: thinking ahead, weighing the evidence, reviewing and summarizing, and listening between the lines.
- Barriers and Gateways to Communication by Carl R. Rogers and F. J. Roethlisberger
This classic work puts forth the idea that, in the world of business, employees are not cogs in a machine but human beings who deserve to be heard and listened to with dignity.
- 10 Steps to Effective Listening by Dianne Schilling
Schilling discusses concrete ways to improve listening skills such as remembering not to interrupt the speaker and not to impose solutions on the speaker.
- What Great Listeners Actually Do by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman
Zenger and Folkman make the intriguing point that “good listeners are like trampolines” and rather than merely absorbing ideas and energy, good listeners “amplify, energize, and clarify” the words of a speaker.
For Moore Learning here are additional resources:
Tuned In: The Power of Pressing Pause and Listening
by Art Bennett and Laraine Bennett
The authors explore listening to others, listening to your heart, and listening to God while making the point that “listening is becoming a scarce commodity in our fast-paced, efficiency-minded, technologically driven society.”
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain
Cain aptly delineates the differences between introverts and extroverts with the objective of enabling the reader to have “a new sense of entitlement” to be one’s own self.
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
In this classic text first written in 1936, Carnegie makes the simple point that, to make people like you, “be a good listener.”
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
by Stephen R. Covey
Covey describes Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood and the principle of empathetic listening which gets you into other people’s frame of reference so that “you look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.”
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism
by Robin DiAngelo
In a forceful and compelling way, DiAngelo explains white fragility and how it has been developed, how it protects racial inequality, and what might be done about it.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
by Carol Dweck
Dweck discusses how mindsets are in fact belief systems and how a person with a fixed mindset can work to attain a growth mindset.
The Art of Communicating
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Hanh believes that a powerful path to happiness is provided through mastering life’s most important skill: communication. In the book, he helps readers move beyond the perils and frustrations of misunderstanding to learn the listening and speaking skills that will forever change how people experience and impact the world.
“I Want to Hear You”: 22 Tips for Artful Listening, before, during and after a Conversation
by John G. Igwebuike with Peter Malik
This book provides readers with a wealth of practical ways to improve their listening skills and interact more fruitfully with their loved ones, friends, and coworkers.
The Sacred Art of Listening: Forty Reflections for Cultivating a Spiritual Practice
by Kay Lindahl
Lindahl explains how deep listening is nurtured by silence, reflection, and presence and how a person can practice a few minutes every day to achieve a greater understanding of listening.
Listening, Thinking, Being: Toward an Ethics of Attunement
by Lisbeth Lipari
Lipari brings together a variety of historical, literary, and intercultural perspectives to analyze how important listening is to the human experience.
You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters
by Kate Murphy
In cogent prose, Murphy describes how “truly listening to someone is a skill many seem to have forgotten or perhaps never learned in the first place.”
The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships
by Michael P. Nichols
Nichols shares his experiences as a therapist along with a great deal of wisdom about listening (“a good listener is a witness not a judge of your experience”); he also includes a variety of helpful exercises in the book to enable the reader to become a better listener.
Listening in Everyday Life: A Personal and Professional Approach (second edition)
edited by Michael Purdy and Deborah Borisoff
This book is a compilation of articles on effective listening in such diverse professions such as health care and journalism.
by James Baldwin
A young man who is misunderstood by the people around him finds a way to communicate to the world through his music.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
by Anne Frank
While hiding from the Nazis, Anne and her family learn to be silent, and Anne discovers how to listen to herself.
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
by James Weldon Johnson
Johnson brings forth the theme of listening as he describes the life of a character who felt invisible living in the Jim Crow South.
“In the Penal Colony”
by Franz Kafka
In this short story, a prisoner’s sentence is written onto his flesh; one of the messages of the bizarre tale is about the need to be heard.
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Lee tells the classic story of Atticus Finch as he defends a Black man who has been wrongly accused of a serious crime. (To listen to the complexities of understanding this classic through an antiracist lens, listen to this Teaching White White podcast episode)
The Tell-Tale Heart
by Edgar Allen Poe
What happens when a heart starts talking?
The Catcher in the Rye
by P. J. Salinger
A young man named Holden Caulfield, after not being listened to by the people around him, finally experiences the joy of being heard.
Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen
by Howard Binkow
The first book in this award-winning series chronicles the tale of a little rabbit that gets into all kinds of trouble for failing to listen properly to his teacher and friends.
The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Children discover a mysterious garden.
I Just Don't Like the Sound of No!
by Julia Cook
R. J. can’t stand the word “no” and tries to turn every negative answer into “maybe” or “we’ll see” by arguing.
I Have a Little Problem, Said the Bear
by Heinz Janisch
Bear needs help, but none of the animals in his village will listen long enough to hear what his problem is before offering solutions.
by Helen Lester
Buddy constantly misunderstands his parents’ requests until he finally learns to listen just in time.
Oink, Oink Benny
by Barbro Lindgren
Benny, an incorrigible little pig, falls into a mud hole after disregarding his mother’s instructions demonstrating the consequences of not listening.
Why Should I Listen?
by Claire Llewellyn
This book takes young readers step by step through the reasons why listening at all times is essential.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
by Bill Martin, Jr.
By reading this book, young people learn the value of hearing.
Listen and Learn
by Cheri J. Meiners
Share this colorful book with your preschooler to illustrate the importance of listening during school.
The Listening Walk
by Paul Showers
The young narrator notes, “I hear many different sounds when I do not talk.”
The Giving Tree
by Shel Silverstein
The story is about a tree that gives of itself to a person through the many stages of that person’s life showing how good listening necessitates that both the speaker and the listener must surrender their needs in order for each of them to be heard.
The Trumpet of the Swan
by E. B. White
This book describes a swan with a disability that prevents it from being able to articulate its thoughts as the other swans in the story do.
Listen in on the kinds of open, honest conversations that too many of us avoid having.
- Listening through Racism with Terrence Covin
In this podcast, Covin revisits the topic of racism in the light of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and David McAtee, and talks about how people can become better listeners through wisdom and discernment.
- Someone to Tell It to with Tom Kaden and Michael Gingerich
This podcast’s mission is to “cultivate meaningful connections through compassionate listening and train others to do the same” and offers more than 40 separate podcasts sharing rich conversations with listeners.
StoryCorps’ mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” This site offers hundreds of personal stories, each just a few minutes.
- Healing the Divide - United and Together
This organization’s goals are helping people with different opinions express their viewpoints through productive discussions and encouraging people to talk to each other “with compassion and a willingness to listen.”
You could also choose a song from the Soundtrack4Justice playlist below.
Watch and learn. We've offered everything from short videos to full-length films.
- Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emanuel Acho
This video is the first in a series of conversations that Acho conducts about the everyday realities of being a black man in America (15 minutes)
- Overview of the Better Arguments Project by the Better Arguments Project This organization believes that “American civic life doesn’t need fewer arguments; it needs better arguments” (3 minutes)
- Field of Dreams featuring Kevin Costner
In this classic movie, an Iowa farmer named Ray hears a mysterious voice one night saying this: “If you build it, he will come.” By listening to that voice and acting upon its words, Ray learns that the field of dreams that he builds is about much more than bringing former baseball greats out to play. (2 hours)
- Ray featuring Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington
This movie about Ray Charles explores the trials and triumphs of a blind musician who “sees” with his ears (3 hours)
- Listen to the Blood by T. D. Jakes
Jakes powerfully tells the story of Cain and Abel and how God told Cain to “listen” (1+ hour)
- Obama Promotes Listening Skills in First Public Appearance after Leaving Office by Barack Obama
Obama notes that he learned to first “find out what people are interested in” (1 minute)
- My Descent into America’s Neo-Nazi Movement & How I Got Out by Christian Picciolini
Picciolini describes how he patiently listened to members of extremist groups and how these conversations resulted in the extremists reexamining their radical viewpoints (20 minutes)
- Unintentional Intolerance by Steve Robbins
A social neuroscientist, Robbins discusses how our brains are wired to communicate with the people who care about us (11 minutes)
- Learning to Be an Active Listener by Sheinelle Jones, Al Roker, and Dylan Dreyer
NBC’s morning newscast openly assess their own listening skills (4 minutes)
- The World Is Sound—Can Listening Help Us Slow Down? by the Rubin Museum of Art
Explores how we respond differently when we begin to listen (1 minute)
- Lost Voices by Darius Simpson & Scout Bostley
This poetry jam reminds us to listen more than we speak (15 minutes)
- We Are All Connected with Nature by Nixwaka Yawanawa
Yawanawa makes the point that when we don’t feel heard, we don’t feel seen (18 minutes)
Notice: Why didn’t I see this sooner? It’s easy to overlook what we’re not looking for.
Once people start to learn about white privilege and America’s systems of oppression through history, they often ask, “Why didn’t I see this sooner?” It’s easy to overlook what we’re not looking for. Once you understand the phenomenon of selective noticing, take yourself on a noticing adventure.
The Listening Sixers
Start to listen artfully to the conversations that are taking place around you at your school, workplace, place of worship, or home. Pick a specific conversation and L-I-S-T-E-N for the following:
- Did the listener welcome the speaker to the conversation in any way?
- Did the listener allow the speaker to express all of his or her thoughts?
- Did the listener interrupt, and, if so, what was the outcome of the interruption?
- Did the listener provide the speaker with constructive feedback?
- Did the listener give the speaker one last opportunity to contribute his or her thoughts?
- Did the listener thank the speaker at the end of the conversation for participating in the conversation?
Do this for several days to sensitize yourself to what works in a conversation and how a conversation fails. Now you are ready to connect with a speaker yourself using the Listening Sixers.
Follow Racial Justice activists, educators, organizations, and movements on social media.
Consider connecting with any of the people you learn about in the above resources. Here are more ideas to widen your circle of who you follow. Pro Tip: check out who these organizations follow, quote, repost, and retweet to find more people to follow.
- Compassionate Listening Project This non-profit organization is dedicated to empowering individuals and communities to transform conflict and strengthen cultures of peace through compassionate listening.
- Jeopardy Labs
This website hosts a fun game similar to Jeopardy that one can play to bolster listening skills.
- Listen First Project
The organization aggregates, aligns, and amplifies the efforts of more than 150 coalition partners into collective campaigns that you can join.
- Living Room Conversations
Using this website, you can bridge communication divides by joining a video conversation, hosting a conversation of your own, and tapping into a community of people involved in the work of connection.
- The Lead Listening Society
Would you like to start a Listening Society at your school? The Lead Listening Society--Lambda Sigma Nu is the only collegiate society “dedicated to enhancing student listening skills for lifelong learning and leadership success.” Visit this website to learn more.
- Soft Skills for STEM (S3TEM)
This website is the home of the leading soft skills (including active listening) training and development program for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) students and young professionals.
Engage in racially mixed settings. Be a learner more than a knower.
This can be the hardest part for people new to racial justice work. Engaging in racially mixed settings can trigger age-old power and privilege dynamics. The goal is to be a learner more than a knower, exactly the opposite of what dominant U.S. culture teaches us to be.
The below material is excerpted from the book entitled “I Want to Hear You”: 22 Tips for Artful Listening before, during, and after a Conversation by John G. Igwebuike and Peter R. Malik
Try the Listening Sixers to connect authentically with a speaker:
Paying attention to a word that the speaker uses more than once and then repeating it back to him or her is a great listening strategy. It lets the speaker know you are tracking his or her thoughts and making a genuine effort to understand them.
Restating a few words or a phrase of the speaker confirms to the speaker that he or she is being heard. You show that you are in step with the speaker’s language. The restatement will also help you clarify your own understanding of the speaker’s thoughts.
In the rephrase part of the Listening Sixers process, recast what you have heard from the speaker in your own words to clarify your understanding through the speaker’s confirmation. You may do this using “I” statements such as the following:
- “What I heard you say was . . . Correct?”
- “As I understand what you have shared, your thoughts are . . . Is that it?”
- “Based on what I have been hearing, you said . . . Did I hear you correctly?"
Active listening is hard work, and listening, too, requires active rest. This pause may last from several seconds up to a minute. Making the deliberate and conscious decision to pause is in itself a kind of feedback. By resting, you are offering a subtle signal to the speaker that you are listening and assimilating his or her thoughts.
With this Sixer strategy, your aim is to recapitulate the speaker’s message so well that you receive affirmation from the speaker. After hearing your recap, the speaker will indicate confirmatory affirmation with words or phrases like “yes,” “that’s right,” “exactly,” “spot on,” and “correct.” Your ability to synthesize major points, storylines, and patterns informs the speaker that you have listened well and that you have retained what the speaker has shared.
Redo over the course of a week
Why not practice the Listening Sixers over the course of this coming week? Here’s a sample schedule:
Day 1 (Repeat): Engage in a conversation. Pick out a key word repeated by the speaker. Practice repeating the speaker’s key word at an appropriate time during the conversation such as after an interruption or during a pause by the speaker.
Day 2 (Restate): Listen carefully during a conversation today. Pick out a key phrase by the speaker. Practice restating that speaker’s key phrase during the conversation.
Day 3 (Rephrase): Engage in a conversation on this day. Pick out a key statement by the speaker. Practice rephrasing the statement in your own words and then stating it at an appropriate time during the conversation.
Day 4 (Rest): Listen artfully during a conversation on this day. Pick out a key word, phrase, or statement by the speaker. When the speaker pauses, you should rest and reflect on the word, phrase, or statement that you have chosen.
Day 5 (Recap): Engage in an artful conversation today. Pick out key words, phrases, or statements by the speaker. At the end of the conversation, summarize the conversation by recapitulating what you have heard from the perspective of the speaker.
Day 6 (Redo): It’s time to review the week’s conversations. How did you do with regard to the Listening Sixers? What type of feedback did you gain from the speakers during the experience? What ways might you improve? Use the answers to these questions as a basis for utilizing the Listening Sixers in the future to improve and refine your listening skills.
Act: Flex your skills. Take action to interrupt power and privilege dynamics.
- Take a Listening Assessment
This listening assessment evaluates your general tendency to L-I-S-T-E-N to others. It is designed to help you understand your strengths in listening as well as identify the areas where you may improve.
- Share your learning with family, friends, or colleagues
Is there a resource above that really resonated with you? Be sure to share it and practice your listening skills as you unpack it together.
- Take the Listening Quiz
This exercise will be illuminating. You can see for yourself how well you have improved your listening skills.
Let people know you are not neutral!
Reflect on what you choose to do, what you’re learning, and how you are feeling.
Reflecting and Journaling is a crucial piece of the challenge. Plan to take time everyday to reflect on what you chose to do, what you’re learning, and how you are feeling. Difficult emotions such as shame and anger, though uncomfortable to feel, can guide you to deeper self-awareness about how power and privilege impacts you and the people in your life. At the very least, use the “Reflect” space on the reflecting journal tool.
Create a Soundtrack4Justice playlist that fuels you and/or can serve as a conversation starter with people of all ages.
If you are using, revising or editing the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge © content created by Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. and his team at The Privilege Institute, giving credit to the creators is required. Remember, now more than ever, you/your organization must always give credit for the social justice tools/ideas created by BIPOC folks doing and leading Antiracist work. We’ve made it easy to give the proper recognition to be used on websites, social media sites, in email communication, during interviews and/or infomercials. Click HERE for our copyright information and tools to incorporate the required recognition in your plan. We are committed to offering the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge © free of charge. We are constantly enhancing the materials, monitoring social media pages, responding to inquiries/questions, and Moore.