Hello, I hope you’re having a good week!
I talk and write a lot about feedback. Going along with that is the ability to listen. This is a skill that I try to build in whenever I work with groups, whether or not I’m training coaches. Listening is as powerful as it is challenging. I know that from the feedback that we get from people who participate in listening exercises with us (my favorite is to assign homework to listen intentionally and faithfully to someone for at least 15 minutes-occasionally, something truly life-changing happens).
Whenever I am in a conversation, whether or not it is part of a formal coaching relationship, I try to be a good listener. My best analogy is that I am trying to turn a game of pinball into a game of golf. Unmonitored conversations have no particular goal, and take frequent and unpredictable turns based on the last thing that was said. I try to learn where the other person wants to go, and keep the conversation on that trajectory. I try to check in during the conversation to make sure that we are on track.
I wrote, with input from my colleagues at the Center, a one-page guide to listening, which is attached. (I write a lot of these one-pagers for various workshops and projects-this one is one of my favorites.) I hope you find it useful, and to sum it up, here is what I think is the essence:
There are two parts to listening well. First, there is the ability to attend to someone and focus on the meaning of what they say and the underlying meaning of what they are trying to get at and of what they don’t say. The meaning can encapsulate thoughts, feelings, values, beliefs, and identity. Second is the ability to turn off the voice in our heads that makes the conversation about us and not what the other person is saying.
And just to tie this back to feedback-don’t wait for others to give you the opportunity to listen. Create those opportunities by asking for feedback frequently. I try to end conversations by asking “What feedback do you have for me?” This often leads to several seconds of awkward silence, or a false start if someone is taken by surprise by the question and starts talking before giving the question any thought. But those don’t bother me. I have been practicing wait time for several decades and I’m pretty good by now. It’s always worth it.
So, what feedback do you have for me? Take the question seriously. I’m listening.
Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106