A big part of the work that I do – particularly with collaborative teams, and when I’m supporting colleagues to build their coaching skills – revolves around our capacity to really listen.
If you’ve ever wondered how to embrace the listener within, and why it’s so important, this blog’s for you.
Here’s a brief look at why being a good listener matters so much.
As leadership expert Marcel Schwantes1 reminds us, if we want to build mutual trust, we need to foster genuine listening, and a climate for it to happen.
By creating this culture, we encourage mutual respect and trust between us and our colleagues. When we pay attention to what other people need, they are far more likely to respond positively.
We all want to be more efficient or productive. Does anyone genuinely enjoy complaining about not having enough time?
When we’re encouraged to talk about our difficulties, and the person we’re talking to gives us the opportunity to flexibly think through some of the solutions – before being told – we can actually address our challenges faster.
Ever found yourself in a situation where people come to you with the same problem, time and time again? That’s an indication of the way you might be listening and inquiring into that problem.
Rather than enabling your colleague to become more self-directed, you might be unintentionally disabling them from solving their own problems – minimising your efforts to develop productive working relationships.
Cooler heads prevail
We do want some conflict in schools because conflict is really just different perspectives that we can use to enhance whatever is being discussed. However, if we get heated or feel passionate, or don’t feel listened to, we can have a physiological response to that, which really hijacks our capacity to listen.
When dealing with a crisis, or debating a sensitive matter, listening closely to what people are saying helps us remain calm, which is hugely important in the collaborative context of any school.
Self-esteem and self-image
You might be surprised to know that we tend to have a higher self-esteem if we’re able to listen to other people, and have conversations that nourish the soul.
If you’re somebody who’s able to listen, rather than tell, this type of nourishment is going to be more likely, which in turn increases your sense of self.
And there’s fewer errors…
Effective listening leads to greater accuracy in retaining anything, including crucial information. As cognitive psychologist Daniel Levitin found in his research, “today, each of us individually generates more information than ever before in human history. Our world is now awash in an unprecedented volume of data. The trouble is our brains haven’t evolved to be able to process it all.”2
This highlights how critical becoming an expert listener is in the information explosion age, and how much easier it is to delete, distort or generalise key information that may be important to us. It also leads to a greater likelihood of making crucial mistakes.
But if we can just stop and genuinely listen, it’s more likely that we’re going to take in information accurately, which could lead to fewer errors.