By Matthew Maslen, Newsletter Editor
In February, I attended a training day at the University of Bradford. It was collaboratively run by PeaceJam and the University of Bradford’s Peace Studies department.

University of Bradford Peace Studies Department 50th Anniversary banner.

PeaceJam has deep roots in the University of Bradford’s Peace Studies Department, which is where our UK body was originally set up in partnership with British Pugwash.
The event was attended by some 30 participants, some of whom had travelled from other northern cities, though most were MA or PhD students of the peace studies department in Bradford.
A month on from the training day, the aspect which has most sat with me was the afternoon session on active listening. Although it was delivered in the context of conflict resolution, I think it has impacted my day-to-day conversations since then.
For this session, we first discussed features of perceived ‘good’ and ‘bad’ listening. We identified things such as eye contact, presenting as physically open, and giving positive feedback through nodding.
The activity itself saw us split into pairs. In the first section, Person A spoke about a favourite childhood memory while Person B sat and actively listened. After Person A had finished, Person B was to summarise and paraphrase the memory back to Person A.
We then switched roles. This time, Person B spoke about a peace and justice issue that they were passionate about.

peacejam logo

I was surprised to find quite how difficult I found it to actively listen. The part I most struggled with was not jumping in to try to clarify points I was unsure on. While my partner spoke about a topic that they were deeply passionate about and which I was uninformed on, I wanted to ask questions. To refrain was hard.
We came back to a large group discussion afterwards, and it seemed I was not alone in this struggle. Another interesting point raised was that often, when the listener relayed back to the speaker, what they had focused on, or found most meaningful, was often different from what the speaker had expected.
In the weeks since, I have been reflecting on these two points. In particular, on the extent to which a conversation can change when we ask a question – do we inadvertently derail the speaker’s intention? Does this mean we should always refrain from asking?
I don’t think there can ever really be a blanket-answer to concerns like these. But thinking on them has made me conscious of how I engage in conversations. What do you think?