Problems When School Leaders Listen Too Well

(Originally titled “Can You Listen Too Well?”)

“Good leaders solicit input, they welcome feedback, and they take the time to hear what is being said,” says Missouri principal Thomas Hoerr in this thoughtful article in Educational Leadership. He makes a point of conducting surveys, frequently checking in with staff, students, and parents, understanding why people feel so strongly about some topics, and appearing unhurried so people are comfortable initiating conversations. But is it possible to listen too well? Yes, says Hoerr:

• Paying too much attention to a vocal minority can make it seem louder and more powerful than it really is. We have to “recognize the smoke without assuming there’s a fire,” he says.

• “Waiting for everyone to be on board means you’ll spend more time waiting than doing,” says Hoerr. Leaders should proceed when there’s a critical mass of support.

• “If we’re not careful, our good listening techniques (eye contact, affirmative nodding, and a singular focus on the speaker) are interpreted as agreement,” he says. We need to make clear where we stand.

• If we’re overly receptive, people will constantly vent and complain and make us miserable. Hoerr believes it’s a good idea to say up front, “Before you go any further, is there something you want me to do or is this just for me to know?” 

“Can You Listen Too Well?” by Thomas Hoerr Educational Leadership, November 2013 (Vol. 71, #3, p. 86-87), www.ascd.org; Hoerr can be reached at trhoerr@newcityschool.org

From the Marshall Memo #510

 

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