As academic, pre-professional and professional communities become more diverse, misunderstandings in small group interactions can limit the potential to draw from all group members' perspectives to generate new knowledge, improved collaborations, and rewarding communicative experiences. This mixed-methods, multiple case study identifies and describes listening behaviors, practices, and patterns of verbal responses that promote and inhibit present listening in small groups that meet regularly to engage in mutual support, collegial inquiry, and collaborative problem-solving.
A new theoretical perspective, Present Listening builds on Ratcliffe's (2005) theory of rhetorical listening, Rogers' (1980) theory of empathic listening, and schema theory as it relates to listening (Edwards & McDonald, 1993). Present Listening as a relational group practice recognizes that all group members are simultaneously sending and receiving messages, and that patterns of verbal responses relate to the quality of relationship that develops among group members (Rhodes, 1993).
Situated in a masters/teacher education program, three "supervisory groups," each consisting of three teacher candidates and a university supervisor, participated in the study. Analysis drew on: videotaped meetings from the fall, winter and spring quarters; quarterly interviews; and pre/post study questionnaires.
Patterns of verbal responses found to promote Present Listening include an equitable distribution of questions among group members, and a small ratio of self-references to questions (e.g., group members posed questions almost as often as they referred to their personal experience, knowledge or opinion when verbally responding to one another). Patterns of verbal responses found to inhibit Present Listening include an inequitable distribution of questions among group members, and the supervisor performing the majority of the group's verbal responses. Advice/instructive statements and interruptions may gain relevance within a group's broader pattern of verbal responses. The patterns of verbal responses that emerge within groups help to describe verbal responses that communicate understanding of group members' distinctive experiences and perspectives.
This study contributes a new theoretical perspective on listening, and new knowledge about listening research design. Findings are useful for academic and professional communities seeking to improve their small group interactions, and pre-professional programs with clinical supervision components, including medical education, counseling and psychology, pastoral education, and teacher education.