On learning to listen

earA few weeks ago I attended a workshop run by a colleague here at UAL called Listening, enquiring and contributing: tuning in to self and others.  I was starting to feel uncomfortable about the way I was contributing and interacting with my peers on the EdD during face-to-face classes, and knew that I needed to reflect on this in a structured way.

Yesterday my colleague e-mailed me with a couple of questions about how I had used the learning from the workshop, which was great timing having just returned from another day of classes in Oxford.

I was more conscious on Saturday of the dynamic between me and my peers and tutors. In the first instance I tried to do the following:

    • talk less overall
    • not interrupt
    • ask people questions about themselves

I did find that the urge to interrupt didn’t go away – I just ‘dealt’ with it by carefully waiting until the very millisecond that someone stopped speaking and then pouncing… which is perhaps marginally better, but still very pushy.

I can’t argue that I am splurging out my thoughts all the time in order to assist my own learning, as I could (and do) note down my thoughts/responses on my laptop. I am concerned that it comes from arrogance – a belief that others can’t possibly leave the room without having benefited from my sparkling insights. I need to constantly remind myself that of course they can.

While I don’t particularly enjoy my opinions on this blog being left unchallenged, I do get accustomed to letting them out, which I don’t think helps in a classroom situation. Also, keeping the blog helps me to articulate and rehearse my own perspective, so that by the time I arrive in Oxford I have all these polished opinions bouncing around my brain wanting to be tried out on other people. That sounds great in theory, but in practice it feels like I am showing off. On a couple of occasions when I opened the floodgates on Saturday I could have sworn a classmate visibly flinched.

I also found that even when I’d asked other people questions, I found it hard to just listen; sometimes I even challenged their responses. I need to remind myself that I am not solely responsible for getting people to think about things.

Essentially, the listening workshop I attended prompted me to observe myself and my peers more closely in my doctoral class, and also to deliberately reflect on my contribution afterwards. I also spoke to my tutor briefly about it – he said my contributions were well-valued, which is nice (and to be honest – knowing me – I would have got upset if he HAD said yes, I talk too much). It’s obviously bothering me though, so I’ll keep trying to work it out. I also spoke to my colleague James – whose opinion I trust immensely. James suggested next time I try not speaking unless I can phrase it in terms of a question. He also suggested that I should speak to my peers about it – hence this blog post. I’m reluctant to actively point them to it though – it has been ever so useful to write, but I think it would be appropriate to simply let it be found, or not.

This week two of my EdD tutors commented on my blog which was great – it’s really helpful to have people not only providing encouragement but also moderating and/or challenging what I’m saying.

The activity I recalled most from the workshop was an initial listening activity, which I actually enjoyed and – although I didn’t realise that ‘active listening’ (showing encouragement etc) wasn’t allowed, I found it quite easy to just ask questions without offering suggestions of my own. Asking questions can simply be another form of interruption though.

One exercise I could use would be to simply record when I have the urge to interrupt, and then note what they go on to say afterwards – I will probably find that it has merit, and therefore I should have held on a bit. I might also consider non-verbal cues I can give that I have something to add, before I actually speak – this might empower the other person to choose whether to hand over to me – or not. I actually have no idea what such a non-verbal cue might be. If anyone has any suggestions, please say!

I just asked my colleague Chris about this and he suggested I give my classmates a yellow and a red card each and ask them to use them on me. I think this might have legs…

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