The Importance of Being a Civil and Ethical Listener

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  • 0:02 Civil & Ethical Listening
  • 0:56 Ethical Pyramid
  • 2:45 Responsibilities
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

The listener has just as much responsibility as the speaker when it comes to ethical decision making. As listeners, we are responsible for being courteous and attentive, avoiding judgment and supporting the speaker's free speech rights.

Civil and Ethical Listening

So you are sitting in the back row listening to Professor Smitterdink recite a speech to your graduating class. As the doctor drones on about scholarly minds, he slips in a familiar quote: 'I always said if you cannot explain it simply, you do not understand it well enough.'

'What?' you say. Wait a minute! Smitterdink didn't make that up! Armed with your smartphone, you begin a full-scale investigation. With determination, you locate the quote and its rightful owner.

'Albert Einstein said that, Smitterdink! Not you! You're a fraud! It's a sham! He's a 2-bit plagiarizer and a thief,' swirls through your mind.

But you also know that heckling Smitterdink from the back row will land you in the Dean's office. That, my friend, was a test of your ethical and civil listening skills.

The Ethical Pyramid

See, there's this thing called an ethical pyramid. Think of it as rational steps to ethical speaking and listening. Picture a triangle. At the very bottom third is intent. This is examining information to determine if its purpose is to be truthful. I know that sounds confusing, because shouldn't we always be truthful? Well, sometimes we use language that is sort of truth and kind of not truth to get a point across.

Did Smitterdink claim to be the owner of the quote because he truly believed he originated it? Or did Smitterdink simply use a poor choice of words when he claimed ownership? What I'm saying is - What was the goal of his statement? He probably meant that he always uses the quote, but not necessarily that he invented the quote. So, let's not blow his cover just yet!

The next third of the pyramid is the middle. This is where we find means. This is the methods you use to get your point across. As a listener, you may alert the speaker to his plagiarism by standing up on the back of your chair and shouting, 'Liar, liar! Cap and gown on fire! I'm calling the authorities if you don't retract the quote immediately.'

You could also email the professor afterwards, making careful note of his erroneous use of Einstein's educational quote. If Smitterdink removes the quote from any further graduation speeches, you did your job either way. However, if he eliminates the ill-gotten quote because you asked him kindly in an email, then you did your job ethically.

Finally, the top third of the pyramid is end. Think of this as the end result of an action. If Smitterdink agrees to retract the quote, he is doing the ethical thing. But if he refuses to admit wrongdoing, he may be doing it for the wrong reason.

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