81/365 Listen to Understand

Faculty meetings can be fascinating places.

Sit in the corner o f a faculty meeting of any given school, just listen, take a few notes, and you’ll be able to say much about what goes on in that school’s classrooms based on what you see.

Author Robert Fulghum writes about his time as a teacher and how he will go down in the history of his school as the guy who tried to kill himself with a pencil to get out of a faculty meeting. To be sure, in no other setting does a pencil present itself as a weapon as in a faculty meeting.

This needn’t be so. One important skill to put into practice for transforming school culture among faculty is to practice assuming positive intent.

Another tool, equally as powerful, and perhaps more important, is that of listening to understand.

In the schools we need, adults listen to one another to understand. They listen to the children with this goal as well. If what we want for students we must want for teachers as well, then it makes sense to begin with the teachers.

Listening to understand is not a new concept by any means. For many, it is as simple as Atticus Finch’s advise in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

This may seem like a long and drawn out process, trying to figure out all of the things contribute to a person’s thinking and then attempting to take on that perspective. If you were trying to do this for each member of a faculty, you’d likely retire before you’d completed the project.

Instead, listening to understand means marshalling the forces of focus and curiosity to truly hear what another person is attempting to communicate. It means hearing not only what they are audibly saying but moving from those initial utterances to questions that show that you were listening and want to understand at a deeper level.

Here, too, community will be co-created. Building understanding of those we work with helps us to understand how their goals, needs, and drives find common cause with our own goals, needs, and drives.

To listening to understand can take many paths, to get started, though, here are a few suggestions:

Look and listen. It’s commonly known that the majority of communication is transmitted through non-verbal means. If you were are truly listening to understand, you must listen with all of your senses. Pay attention to physical cues being sent your way.

Ask. So often, our gut instinct in conversation when others are trying to explain themselves or make a point is to react with a statement of agreement or disagreement. If we take an extra beat, consider the information we have, and ask the next logical question, then the conversation and our understanding will be all the better for it.

Say what you think you heard. In any line of communication, there is interference in the form of mishearing, getting distracted, or pouring our own thoughts into the process. By taking a moment to say to the person you’re seeking to understand, “Here’s what I think I just heard you say…” we open the path for clarification.

Listening to understand is different than listening to hear. While both are preferrable to remaining quiet until it is your turn to talk, listening to understand has the benefit of developing purpose that is specific to those to whom we are listening.

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