The Art of Listening / L’art d’écouter

Usually comfortable with talking, and rarely short of an opinion, David Phipps reflects on listening as a key skill for knowledge brokers.
Très à l’aise dans la parole et rarement à court d’opinion, David Phipps réfléchit à la capacité d’écoute comme qualité essentielle des courtiers de connaissance.
In this video Budd Hall (UNESCO Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility, University of Victoria) speaks at the National University of Ireland in Galway about Community Based Research. Watch him at the one minute mark talk about listening.
“The most powerful piece of knowledge when working with community is that you never know. The never knowing causes one to listen. Learning to listen, being able to listen, is probably the most powerful tool you can develop. It is a tool one continues to develop all of one’s life.”
ListeningListening is a key quality and skill brokers need to support knowledge mobilization. In a fairly whimsical paper in Evidence & Policy in 2012 Sarah Morton (Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, University of Edinburgh) and I published on the qualities of knowledge brokers. One of those qualities was as therapist (communicator, listener and supporter). As one knowledge broker in our study expressed, “I bring a lot of respect of other organisations’ needs. I am a good listener and I put them at the centre of my work.”
I didn’t really pull all this together until a dinner I had in November in Calgary with Dan Goldowitz (Scientific Director, NeuroDevNet) and David Nicholas, a researcher from the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary and NeuroDevNet researcher. David’s research examines labour force participation among adults with high-functioning autism. Adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience high rates of unemployment and under-employment. Individuals with ASD frequently report hiring protocols and workplace environments that insufficiently accommodated their needs, under-recognize their cognitive abilities, and provide few opportunities for workplace advancement. This gap results in stress and under-employment for individuals and challenges for families. It further heightens the societal risk of not optimally engaging human talent that alternatively could offer benefit to the labour market. Vocational growth, personal satisfaction and economic benefit for these individuals with ASD may be substantially impeded due to such patterns of diminished labour engagement. David Nicholas’ research addresses the needs of adults with ASD and the needs of employers to seeking to maximize labour market involvement. He is working with employers and employer groups to develop tools and interventions aimed at creating inclusive hiring practices of businesses.
At dinner we explored how he might be able to maximize the impact of this research by focusing on the needs of employers and providing them with tools to help inform interview practices to create opportunities for people with ASD to be successful in interviews. We discussed holding research forums and the role of employers (both companies and industry associations) as co-leads in those knowledge exchange events. We discussed the role of unions as barriers and/or enablers to authentic participation of people with ASD in the labour market. We discussed impact of the research and on whom. We explored the current state of the research, where it could go and started to draw a pathway to that outcome. “We” meant that I asked, probed and peeked into the corners of this research and beyond. And I listened as David was kind enough to answer and help me come to understand his research and the potential impact it could have on the lives of people with ASD.
That was over dinner, maybe one hour after the getting to know you chit chat.
As we were wrapping up David said to me that I should write about “the art of listening”.
Apparently I wasn’t listening at that moment as I kind of brushed off the idea not giving it the attention it deserved. But since then I have returned to listen to that comment and come to realize that the art of listening is key to knowledge brokers supporting knowledge mobilization.
Knowledge brokers are not necessarily experts in the fields in which they work. Knowledge brokers have the ability to ask questions, listen and form a partnership with the researcher and his/her collaborators to help develop a pathway from research to impact.
Sure there are tools to help support knowledge mobilization planning such as those developed by Melanie Barwick or the Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health. Knowledge brokers need to use those tools but to do so they first need to ask questions and sit back and just listen.

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