Listening is a skill that many people think they’ve mastered but, in reality, lack a deeper understanding of this ability. I was in a workshop this summer, and my professor turned us onto this book: Rhetorical Listening (2005) by Krista Ratcliffe. My professor talked about the principles in the book and the common reasons we listen: to use the information for our benefit or to defend against what has been said. These two listening approaches limit us in our understanding of others, but rhetorical listening allows us to listen and understand/empathize, not to take or debate their thoughts. In other words, listening is something that we do naturally, but rhetorical listening is something we must learn and develop.
Taking this concept and adding in care ethics principles, only with rhetorical listening can someone truly understand and care for the other person. The four ways to implement care ethics, as created by Joan Tronto, are as follows: (1) attentiveness, (2) responsibility, (3) competence, and (4) responsiveness. By applying rhetorical listening and looking at it through a care ethics lens, one can see how this would improve understanding across all kinds of barriers and differences; changing why we listen to others and making us more attentive and responsive to their needs.
Now, applying these concepts to a digital realm, it is clear to me how online interactions would benefit greatly from this approach. It is easy for instructors/students/peers/strangers to get into arguments online when someone is just listening to respond or defend, and it is easy for a company to digitally interact with their audience in a way that focuses on what the company wants rather than what consumers want—constantly ready to defend. This often is the natural response in digital spaces because it is easy to see online writings as unattached to any human feelings. As ideas rather than people. But, by approaching these writings and conversations with an empathetic mindset, listening becomes a much more valuable tool to learn about the other’s needs and how to meet them.