Tag Archives: appreciative listening

Problem Solving with Staff

15 Mar


Reminder One:Teachers are well-intentioned, hard-working people who care about students.

This seems obvious to everyone who works in schools. “Of course teachers are good people.” However as SLT we sometimes find that their everyday thoughts and actions don’t always reflect this belief.

There are many more of these kinds of issues that provoke this kind of complaining among staff:

  • increase reports and completed paperwork
  • new projects eg the Digital Curriculum
  • changing school directions

In schools where leaders are working hard to be collaborative, respectful and responsive to needs, we can sometimes fall into what I call the “rabitt hole” where there is an expectation of an endless supply of time to listen to complaints that are directed at a situation they didn’t create.

The emotions it evokes are usually from the anger to indignation – from annoyance to seething resentment and outrage. There are often some fear emotions that are evoked as well. For me this is exhausting.

This rabbit hole contains the belief that a good leader must listen to people’s complaints, even when there is a limited scope for making substantive changes.  The challenge implicit in this belief and behaviour is that the act of listening, often leads to an implicit expectation on the part of the complainers that something will be done. To listen and not to act, can therefore erode your relationship with people over the long term.   To listen over and over again, can lead to a host of frustrations that don’t have an outlet. Recently in this space I have been doing some reading and trying a few new things in my leadership journey.

1) Be strong about what is your purpose.

We know that there is rich information in complaints. I have discovered Appreciative Listening.   So, instead of listening, and feeling it’s your job to defend or sell the change, start with listening to hear what is behind the complaints. Consider communicating your purpose by saying: I’m listening because right now because I don’t yet know the best way to implement this required external change. My hope is, that by understanding all aspects of this change and it’s anticipated effects, it will help us to be more creative and conscious about the choices we have in the implementation of this change.

Then ask the question: When you anticipate this change being implemented, what concerns does it raise for you? (You can ask, if you want to, what hopes or benefits do you see?   However, depending on the nature of the change, this might be a better question to ask at the end of the conversation.)

Your task then is to capture what you hear people say in order not to miss anythingDo so visibly in a notepad in front of you. Or, on a white board. Or, on a projected screen. Or, ask someone to help the group keep track so that you can in fact, stay focused on the speaker.

2) Find the underlying value or quality that is implicit in the complaint.

Ask help to identify what value or quality underlies each complaint, until people feel that they’re repeating themselves and there is nothing new to be learned.

3) Next step: Take these values and qualities and ask for help putting them into the major themes related to this change.

4) Ask the question: What are the possible ways we could manage the implementation of this change so that, as much as is possible, we integrate what is important to you?

This part of the conversation may take place in one meeting or over several meetings, depending on the complexity of what needs to be implemented. I have found success in encouraging brainstorming and collaboration. Ask specific questions like, how can we implement this new directive AND manage workloads effectively?  How can we implement this new directive, AND sustain high quality service to clients?

The best brainstorming ideas, of course, will address several of the criteria – i.e. they will protect time with clients, they will help with the balancing of workloads, etc.

I find this hard because it’s important to even allow the “not too practical” ideas, because they act as sparks.

When there are lots of ideas, find the ideas that can be put together in such a way that it leads to the optimum preservation of what is important to people.

What do you think?



Parenting and Leadership

26 Nov


I have been reading and tweeting this week a great deal about teaching, being a Dad and our community. As I reflect on my last term as a leader I can see lots of similarities between being a good Dad and a good leader.

It’s not all about you: your role as a Dad is to raise an independent adult. Sometimes your child won’t like you. That’s ok. You are not their friend, you are their Dad. A good Dad knows it isn’t about your child liking you, and sometimes you won’t like them; but it is about you loving them regardless.

Great Dads listen: they respect their children, valuing them as individuals, people who have a voice, ideas, passions and interests. Good Dading isn’t about creating a clone of you, but empowering them to live their own dreams.

Loving Dads are willing to say sorry: It takes humility, but you must be open to the possibility that on occasions your child may be right, and you’re the one in the wrong. Apologizing isn’t a sign of weakness.

It’s about modelling: As a member of the SLT we need to be the best we can be every day and if not apologize for it.

Be the guide on the side: Good Dads are there not to judge, but to catch a child when they fall, helping them to bounce back and have another go.

And the most obvious, Dads love each of their children: they are a gift from God and they are at the centre of our schools.

I hope I am a god Dad. I pray and know that the experience has made me a better leader.

Appreciative Listening

23 Mar


Lots to think about this week. One of the things I did notice was the idea of listening.

Listening is complicated. It is the sign of a good leader. This week we have done some work on this skill.

Active listeners are listening both with an emphasis on enhancing the interpersonal relationship and to gather information. People have natural listening styles or ways that they process what they’ve heard. A Comprehensive listener will listen to gather information and put it together to create the big picture. An Evaluative listener is automatically judging the information they are listening to. Discerning listeners have a natural style that sifts and sorts fact from fiction. An Empathic listening style helps the listener tap into the feelings of the person they are listening to.

Listeners who have an Appreciative listening style listen for the entertainment and enjoyment of listening, not necessarily to gather information. Understanding our own personal listening strengths and our opportunities for growth is tapping into the power of listening. Almost everyone who experiences being listened to appreciatively, reports that it feels good to feel so deeply heard and respected.

 I find like most leaders, talking is what characterizes our days. Answering questions. Setting direction. Speaking with people about what needs to be done.   It is not unusual for a leader to want to find the “speed up” button when people are speaking or to be multi-tasking.   This links me back to the social discipline window which I am now using a great deal.


Consequently, it is not uncommon for leaders to feel impatient with speakers and to view listening only as too passive a form of influence in their busy schedule.

However, Appreciative Listening is not passive. It is a highly active, totally focused form of attention.  It is not active listening, repackaged. Unlike in active listening where you’re expected to repeat or confirm that you’ve understood what’s been said, appreciative listening asks you to show that you understand the person.

What is Appreciative Listening?

It is listening with the sole purpose of identifying qualities, strengths and values of the speaker that you respect.

Your commitment to do this only needs to be 3 to 5 minutes of focused time.

The payoff is high in terms of increased understanding, improved rapport and in building a more positive work relationship.

The consequences will be that everything begins to work better simply because you have a better understanding of what really matters to the other person.

Appreciative Listening Opens Door to Changed Relationships

Appreciative Listening offers two profound benefits:

  1. It increases the common ground in all your work relationships– even the ones which feel least susceptible to any positive change.
  2. It changes you the listener.

How do you rate as a listener? What role does it play in your work as a leader?


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