Good Listening creates Cooperation in Liberia (or anywhere)

As an anthropologist, I am trained to listen to people and understand their point of view.

In Liberia, I and my team of local researchers went into communities and said, “We are from WHO (the World Health Organization) and we need to know what you know. Because what you say is important, we will write down whatever you tell us about what is happening in your community.” This was done with no judgment and no desire to hear anything in particular. Because of this openness and empathy, people had much to say.

For instance, people voiced their objections to cremation, which went against their culture. But as they talked about it, they came to the same conclusion as the government. There were too many bodies to bury. Also cremation killed the Ebola virus and did not endanger the local water supply.

The communities with whom we talked ended up supporting the government decision. Other communities, who had not had this opportunity to express themselves, resisted, almost often to the point of riots. The result of good listening was clear –cooperation was created.

Being able to listen to another person without judgment, without taking sides, without even a goal, is a great gift to give another, and I am often amazed at how well it resolves conflicts and differences.