Evidence That It Works
In one study, a group of mostly young, white, female college students had brief conversations (about their biggest disappointment with their university) with someone trained to engage in Active Listening, someone who gave them advice, or someone who gave simple acknowledgments of their point of view. People who received Active Listening reported feeling more understood at the end of the conversation.
Another study paired Mexican immigrants with white Americans, while another paired Israelis with Palestinians. In both studies, each member of the pair was asked to share their perspectives on the difficulties of life in their society, and to take the perspective of the other person when they were sharing their views.
This dialogue significantly improved participants’ attitudes toward the other group. They felt greater empathy for their suffering, trusted their intentions more, and felt more warmly toward the group as a whole. However, for members of the pair with less social power (Mexican immigrants and Palestinians), attitudes toward the other group improved more after they shared their perspective than after they took the other person’s perspective.
Why Does It Matter?
We’re more likely to want to bridge our differences with someone when we feel heard and understood by them—and we’re more effective at connecting with someone when we really listen to where they’re coming from.
Tuning into what a peer is saying and conveying that you are paying attention to them helps to foster strong peer relationships. Indeed, children who believe that their peers will communicate positively with them are more likely to expect friendship, to be included, and to feel comfortable with their peers, regardless of gender.
Experiencing positive peer relationships also contributes to higher academic achievement, better health and well-being (across cultures), and emotional and behavioral engagement with school. And students with a strong peer network are more resilient, even when they face difficulties at home.