Huub Rutten, who is into linguistics, described “listening” to me when we met last November at KM in Europe as “fastening strings on things you already know and then attach them to parts of what someone is telling you.”, while moving his fingers from his own forehead (him being the listener) to mine. Please try and visualize this for a sec, while I try to explain why I think this is a powerful picture.
First of all it places the listener at the center of the action, or indeed the conversational universe, and not the storyteller. It is a picture where the storyteller is not pushing information at me, but where I as the listener deliberately pick up parts of the ‘audio-stream’ (no disrespect to the story teller meant here) based on how it relates to what I already know or think to know.
The storyteller is ‘merely’ a part of my surroundings that is a source of information (again no disrespect meant). This turns around the classic picture of storytelling, where the public is gathered round the campfire hanging on the storyteller’s lips, and which features the storyteller as broadcaster and the listeners as passive bystanders.
Second, it demonstrates the contextuality of listening. My listening to you is based on my intellectual and emotional context at the time of listening. (In the same way the context of the storyteller determines the packaging of the story) If my context, my mind, is ripe, I will recognize a good idea if it comes along, and otherwise I will not grasp it (probably to my own loss, but nevertheless). Now listening to me is a basic part of every interaction with another individual, even if the interaction is not based on verbal language but e.g. body language. My eyes can listen as well as my ears, which probably turns my definition of listening into the interpretation of my surroundings.
Listening, using the above definition even wider namely also in instances where “surroundings” does not entail any other individual or only
mediated as when reading texts, is then my only road to acquiring new knowledge. The storyteller, or the environment in general, gives me information, and my listening turns it into personal knowledge, by the act of placing the information into the pre-existing context of my mind.
Summarizing listening has at its core the concepts of action ( I decide the things I pick out of a story), contextuality (only within my personal context does what I listen to gain value) and knowledge acquisition (the value gained from listening).
Now on to the next post where I intend to use this in demonstrating the role of blogs in knowledge sharing.