Californian Shelley Kessler, who has taught council methods to elementary school students, advocates listening "between the lines" as someone speaks, "hearing the feelings and the intentions as well as the words. It requires tremendous discipline." This sort of rigorous attention to other people's speech is variously known as creative listening, active listening, or deep listening.

Active listening is not easy. For one thing, most people think about four times faster than they speak. It's easy for a listener to tune a speaker out three-quarters of the time, while rapidly turning over his or her own ideas. If you find yourself doing this, practice watching the speaker as well as listening to what is being said. Note each word and nonverbal signal, letting your mind rest during the pauses between phrases or sentences. If you regularly jump to conclusions about where someone is headed and then stop listening, discipline yourself to pay attention long enough to find out whether your assumption was correct.

Active listening also requires setting judgments and reactions aside. While listening, try to grasp the essence of what you are hearing. Ask yourself how the speaker feels about the subject, and whether her words are congruent with her body language and expressions. Look for underlying meaning rather than superficial information ...

There are many ways to develop the "muscle" of truly hearing another's words. Here's one: Break into groups of three. Choose a controversial topic. Ask one person to state his position on the subject for roughly five minutes, then ask number two to summarize what number one said. Then the first speaker gets to say whether she thinks the summary is accurate. Now reverse the process: Number two speaks, number one summarizes, etc. Finally, the third person, who has only been listening and observing so far, comments on what she noticed while the others were speaking and listening.

Or have your group listen to two members discuss a "hot" topic, and then, as a group, discuss what it is about language, speaking styles, and mannerisms that makes listening easy or difficult. This is a powerful way to learn about both speaking and listening.

Jaida N'ha Sandra, Jon Spayde, Editors of the Utne Reader in Salons