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“May I please finish?” said one of my siblings during a discussion on the care of my elderly parents. I had just interrupted with what I thought was a helpful suggestion. Another sibling said in a low voice, “See, I am not the only one who interrupts.” The third sibling said, “We are a family of interrupters!” I quickly shut my mouth and mentally told myself to stop thinking of what I wanted to say and LISTEN! This incident reminded me that even though I work hard on my communication skills, I may need to monitor myself more with family and also at work. I started to wonder how well I had really been listening.
Communication skills are a fundamental competency in Leadership Essentials, one of the three domains of the Whole Leadership Framework. Being a good listener is key to being an effective communicator. Early childhood leaders and administrators spend much time listening to children, families, staff, and community members. To listen well, they need to understand what is being communicated, stay engaged in the conversation, be mindful of their perspective, and listen with a focus on empathy.
I have been fortunate to work with several colleagues who are good listeners. They make it a priority to listen to understand rather than being quick to respond. I notice that when they listen, they don’t prejudge, and they ask questions to enhance their understanding of what is being said. They serve as a model for me as I aspire to be a better listener.
Now that I am more aware that my habit of interrupting has crept back into my behavior with family, friends, and colleagues, I plan to focus on improving my listening skills. Below are five simple strategies I will practice to strengthen my listening skills.
This will take dedicated effort, but I believe I can become a better listener. The next time I am with my siblings, I hope to hear them say, “Thanks for listening!”
“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” ~Ralph Nichols
Interested in learning more about communication and leadership? Communication skills are just one of the topics discussed while building leadership skills in the Ready to Lead leadership academy. Information can be found here.
Barb Volpe, M.Ed., is the Director of Professional Learning at the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership. She oversees the development and implementation of leadership academies for early childhood center- and home- based administrators. Barb is a state and national trainer in areas of early childhood program leadership and administration. Building on past experience as a statewide assessor for the Illinois QRIS system, she supports statewide Quality Specialists and Infant Toddler Specialists in their technical assistance work through training on quality assessment tools and coaching practices.