If you'd like to improve your relationships — at school, at home, in your neighborhood — and would like to mature emotionally and socially, listening is a non-negotiable discipline. It doesn't get much glory — the million-view TED talks aren't videos of people listening; the folks who get interviewed on the morning news aren't being interviewed for their skill in listening — but it's foundational to loving one's conversation partner as we ourselves like to be loved.
Kate Murphy's You're Not Listening has me thinking about this hidden discipline anew. In the book, Murphy provides three questions to ask yourself after a conversation. I found this applicable to our work in education and our lives in general.
Murphy's three questions are:
- What did I just learn about that person? If you can't answer this, you either weren't listening or you didn't give your conversation partner a chance to talk.
- What was most concerning to that person? If you can't answer this, you weren't very empathetic, and it's unlikely that they felt listened to.
- How did that person feel about what we were talking about? If you can't answer this, you weren't attending to the person's emotions — a big miss.
Think about this in our work in schools.
- During a team meeting, be it remote or in-person: Did I learn anything about my teammates? Did I pick up on what they're concerned about? Did I attend to their emotions? Answering these doesn't mean I need to let meetings derail into non-productivity; it just means I need to attend to the humanity of my teammates as we go through our agenda.
- During a parent/teacher conference, phone call, or Zoom session: Did I learn anything about the parent or the student during the conversation? Did I register what the parent's biggest concern or pressure point is? How do I think the parent felt about what we were talking about? Being able to answer these increases the odds that I worked well with the parent.
- During a conversation with a colleague: Did I learn anything about my colleague during this? Did I register their biggest concern or pressure point? What were they feeling?
You get the idea. My hunch is that Murphy's questions will help me focus on the person I'm speaking with and improve the outcomes of my conversations. For example, I'm curious to see how just attending to these three questions helps guide conversations away from complaint-land and toward more productive things.
Before you go: I made a simple, printable sheet for keeping track of five people we listened to for a given day (Google Doc; pdf). If it's helpful and you'd like to be on my newsletter, be sure to subscribe here. And tell your friends — I appreciate it. 🙂