As teachers and school leaders, we are constantly in conversation with either students, staff or parents. Our ability to lead and manage these conversations is key to communicating both our thoughts and vision. Communicating effectively is not just about talking though. Our ability to listen intently and effectively in conversations is normally always underestimated and taken for granted. But do we know how to listen properly? And have we ever stopped to think about this as a key skill? As a teacher I’ve been trained in everything from child protection to driving a minibus, but surprisingly not how to listen.
I recently stumbled across a fantastic TED Talk by Celeste Headlee that discussed this very subject – ’10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation’. Her talk gave me the time to listen and reflect on my own practice, thinking about whether I give enough thought to how I lead and manage conversations. It also raised the question that, if we have so many conversations per day and they are crucial to how effective we are as teachers and leaders, then we should probably give the theory, structure and skillset behind them more thought than we already do.
In her talk, Celeste discussed 10 ways to have a better conversation and I have summarised the key points below:
There is no reason to learn to show you are paying attention, if in fact, you are paying attention
We’ve probably all either done this or been on the receiving end of somebody trying to show us they are listening by providing obvious nods and mmmns at what they feel is the right time in the conversation. The feeling is that if you are consciously having to think about this and do this, that you can’t be listening intently anyway.
Don’t multitask, be in that moment
Give the other person in the conversation the respect to give them your full attention. Put down your phone and put aside any other thoughts you might be having. Be in the conversation and not in another conversation with yourself.
Enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn
Everyone you ever meet will know something that you don’t. Take the opportunity to learn something from everyone you talk to and be prepared to be amazed!
Use open ended questions. If you pose a complicated question you are going to get a simple answer back
We tend to think that we have to ask well thought out and complex questions to get complex answers, but in reality, the opposite is true. Simplify your question, let them stop and think about it there answer before describing it in detail for you. The more complicated the question, the more you’ll probably get a closed answer such as yes or no. Give the person who is answering the question, the freedom to take it further.
Don’t equate your experience with theirs
All experiences are individual and we should never try to liken our experiences to others. It’s not an opportunity promote yourself or talk up your own issues.
Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand, we listen with the intent to reply
If you’re not listening to each other, a conversation is just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place. We must start listening to the flow of the conversation and take a deeper understanding of what has been said, rather than just listening for an opportunity to jump in to make the point that you have been thinking about for the last few minutes.
No man ever listened his way out of a job
There are times when we need to learn to keep our mouth closed and our ears open. Open your mind and be prepared to be amazed.
And finally, Celeste wrapped up her talk with her take on keeping conversations brief…..
A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject!