Good evening.  In Connecticut, the weather is wonderful, and I am grateful.

All roads seem to lead to Jordan Peterson lately—in addition to everything that keeps cropping up on the internet, when I was in Baltimore recently, his talk was being advertised at a downtown theater, so I got tickets to hear the same talk in Wallingford on September 7 (is anyone else going?), and I bought his book, 12 Rules for Life, which is an odd book.  As I’ve written about before, I happen to know quite a bit about self-help books.  And this one is definitely unusual, partly because of its underlying ethos, which is both philosophical and psychological, and partly because of the tone, which manages to be both lyrical and bracing. Despite being enormously popular, it has received some blistering reviews.

Reviews notwithstanding, my favorite rule so far is #9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.  Because it has such great language about talking and thinking.  Which is very closely aligned with how I think about listening.  I listen very closely for specific purposes.  I’m listening not because I care about you (but I do!), but because I want to understand what you think and how you think.  I’m also listening for what you don’t say, because I’ve found that that also tells me a lot.

Here’s what Jordan Peterson says about listening:

The people I listen to need to talk, because that’s how people think.  People need to think.  Otherwise they wander blindly into pits.  When people think, they simulate the world, and plan how to act in it.  If they do a good job of simulating, they can figure out what stupid things they shouldn’t do.  Then they can not do them.  Then they don’t have to suffer the consequences.  That’s the purpose of thinking.  But we can’t do it alone.  We simulate the world, and plan our actions in it.  Only human beings do this.  That’s how brilliant we are.  WE make little avatars of ourselves.  We place those avatars in fictional worlds.  Then watch what happens.  If our avatar thrives, then we act like he does, in the real world.  Then we thrive (we hope).  If our avatar fails, we don’t go there, if we have any sense.  We let him die in the fictional world, so that we don’t have to really die in the present.

I work very hard to be a good listener, and I have learned that: a) people are not used to being listened to—by which I mean, being in a situation in which the person on the other side of the conversation has no interest except making sure that you are given the time, opportunity, and prompting (if necessary) to tell your story and explore your thinking; b) people are frequently surprised by what they hear themselves say when given the time, opportunity, and prompting (if necessary) to tell their story and explore their thinking; c) people are not used to silence—which is funny, because as educators we preach the value of wait time with students, but apparently we are not very good at practicing it in conversation with each other.

Peterson is a therapist, but his approach to listening is describes what coaches and leaders should be doing: listening for the purpose of supporting thinking.  It is a powerful skill to have mastered.

But you don’t have to take the word of a coach about how important it is that successful leaders listen.  Read the Harvard Business Review—they know a thing or two about effective leadership practice:

“Leaders Who Get Change Right Know How to Listen”

“In a Difficult Conversation, Listen More Than You Talk”

“Meetings Would Go Faster If People Took the Time to Listen”

“To Change Someone’s Mind, Stop Talking and Listen”

One more thing: I started a Google Plus community on coaching, where I or anyone else who chooses to join the community can post resources on coaching and related skills: listening, questioning, and giving feedback.  Here’s the link:

Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you.  And if you are opening school in the next few days—good luck.  Yours, Isobel

Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Program Coordinator
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106
Office: 860.586.2340

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