“If a Muslim woman who wore the veil decided to stop wearing it, I thought she was a bad person and did not deserve to be my friend. If I knew her, I would intimidate her.” explains Hawraa Ibrahim Ghandour, a Lebanese Muslim.
She says her opinions were formed growing up in a very religious family. Her father preferred her to be friends with similar people, and notes that she carried these values into her adult life and her job as a high school English teacher.
Hawraa is one of 150 people in Lebanon who took part in a deep listening projectmanaged by the British Council (the UK’s public cultural institute dedicated to the dissemination of English language and culture) in collaboration with the BBC.
The objective was to acquire skills related to empathy, silence and suspension of judgement. And a year later, Hawraa reflects on how what she learned helped open her mind.
“I learned to listen more, not to judge, but to try to understand and give others time to communicate the messages they wanted. then give feedback to check that I understand what they want me to know.
What she now considers her old fanaticism and intolerance extended to everything that was different.
“Before, I was against Syrian refugees in Lebanon,” he says. “I used to think that Syrians here didn’t take care of their hygiene and didn’t live a real Lebanese life.
However, today he works Tuesday afternoons at a school for Syrian refugees, despite the stunned reaction of his family.
Every morning, Hawraa meets Mayada, a refugee nurse from Syria, over her morning coffee. They first met when Mayada was caring for Hawraa’s mother, and now the two women are often at each other’s house.
Hawraa says that her new relationships helped her to be more tolerant.
“In the past, maybe I didn’t communicated effectively with these people, or maybe I was just listening to the media, which plays a role in stigmatizing people,” he explains.
“If we listen to each other, we discover that we have a lot in common: human feelings that we share,” he adds.
However, Hawraa’s friendship with Mayada does not prevent Hawraa from having serious doubts about certain aspects of Mayada’s culture.
Mayada’s son is about to marry a 16-year-old woman, which is not uncommon in the Syrian refugee community.
“I accept that it’s your choice,” he said thoughtfully. “By listening carefully, you understand that this person not your enemy even if it behaves differently.
deep listening technique used to manage difficult conversations and make sure that Both parties feel listened to. involves being really curious about the other person, with a great desire to understand it. It is connect with the other as an individual and generate trust. Here’s what you need to do to put it into practice:
Mohammad, an aid worker from Lebanon, was aware that he did not know how to listen and that interfered in the negotiations an essential part of your job.
“I was that person who always interrupted, the person who always knew what you were trying to say,” he says. “There he was starting with the assumptions and then trying to validate them. Assumptions can be deadly.
Shortly after training, Mohammad took a job in Mosul, Iraq, working with local authorities, NGOs and UN agencies to create a plan to help the city’s displaced people.
To be successful in his new role, Mohammad had to reconcile many different groups with a large number of opposing ideas.
“Should we send the displaced back home? Should we try to integrate them into the city where they were? Will they agree to live in a neighborhood with people from a different tribe?
Mohammad remembers very well the information he received before he started working. As his colleague described the role and its requirements, he began to sense that there was igeneral information you would need, but that was not shared.
“Believe me, in the humanitarian sector, you need understand personalities of all parties involved for effective coordination. Who is facilitating, who spoils the situation and who blocks.
At that moment, Mohammad remembered the listening training and the importance of give someone space after they’ve finished talking, both as a sign of respect and to allow you to share more.
After his colleague finishes speaking, waited a full 20 seconds.
“During those 20 seconds, I was able to gain some trust and bond with her,” he says. “After that space, our relationship kind of changed, and she shared with me her real-life experiences and her perception of key characters she should be working with.”
Three months later, Mohammad credits it with helping him understand how the city works and making great strides with plans for a coordinated response.
There are times, however, when Mohammad tries hard not to use his newly acquired listening skills.
“In the helping industry, if you get really good at it and you’re in a personal conversation, you get into a very deep emotional level you might not be ready for,” he says.
Mohammad tells me of a conversation with a taxi driver who told him that he had been flogged 18 times for the crime of driving a woman without a male escort, which was prohibited when the city was under the control of the so-called Islamic State.
“There is a dark side to deep listening”, Mohammad thoughtfully explains. “I know right now it’s not safe for me to have these conversations. I need power separate myself from the experience and suffering of others. Personally, I’m not ready yet. master this emotional side.
In the meantime, for Hawraa, how does she reconcile her new beliefs with her upbringing and her father’s values?
Her father died a few years ago, but every Thursday Hawraa visits his grave. “I feel like he can see me from the sky and I’m glad he’s happy and proud,” she says.
“The more you know people, the less you are afraid of them. We have fewer prejudices. You may have discovered that all people are equal in their humanity.