There is little doubt in my mind that the best communicators are listeners.
When someone listens to you, and I mean really listens to you, then you get results.
Discussions and staff meetings involve lots of talking but not much listening. People zone out and are preoccupied.
But this is not surprising because teachers, like so many other professionals, aren’t taught to listen and communicate – we are expected to just do it as if comes with the territory. It doesn’t.
Ross et al (1994) in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook gives us 9 pointers for how to listen and I think these are worth sharing:
1. Stop talking
Always good advice this one but essential. Ross et al say that we have to stop talking and that includes learning to “still the voice within” as sometimes inner-talk can prevent us from listening.
2. See their viewpoint
Looking at things from someone else’s viewpoint is difficult but that’s what we have to do – step into their shoes. Look at your boss (or whoever it is) and imagine doing their work, facing their problems, using their language and living their values.
3. Look, act and be interested
The worst thing anyone can do in a meeting is fiddle. You see it all the time – people checking phones, reading emails, doodling, reading etc. Don’t, it’s just plain rude and shows you are elsewhere.
4. Focus on body language
We need to look at non-verbal behaviour to understand the message. The body speaks volumes.
5. Don’t interrupt
Sit still past your tolerance level.
6. Listen between the lines
Consider connotations as well as denotations. Instead of zooming in on what someone has said, look for what they haven’t said or left unexplained.
7. Speak only affirmatively when listening
Ross et al suggest resisting “the temptation to jump in with an evaluative, critical, or disparaging comment at the moment a remark is uttered. Confine yourself to constructive replies until the context has shifted, and criticism can be offered without blame.”
Rephrase what the other person has just told you at key points in the conversation to ensure understanding.
9. Stop talking
Yes, this is also number 1 but it’s so important – “Take a vow of silence once in a while.”