On the Job, Snippets

Listen More


Lately, I’ve been on a mission to listen at eighty percent, and talk just twenty percent. In other words, I want to be a patient listener. I used to be one once, a patient listener, that is. But those were in the days when I was younger and wiser. I am now older, and thereby a bit foolish — we tend to believe that as we grow older, we grow wiser, and therefore are in a position to dole out advice like candy to eager children. It makes me wonder at my presumptuousness. Very few people are actually seeking advice. Most just want to be listened to. I have begun to notice how everyone is busy talking and nobody is listening. How does one communicate, then? No wonder there is a breakdown in communication these days. Oh, the irony!

Recently, a missionary visited our school and spoke of how his ministry was about ‘listening’ — eighty percent listening and twenty percent talking. Yes, that’s where I heard it from. I thought to myself, ‘Of course! That is so obvious! Why haven’t I seen it before?’ I immediately set about creating time and space for my class students to ‘speak’ to me. I wrote dates on chits of paper and left them lying in my classroom drawer with the instructions that if anyone felt like they wanted to talk to someone who would simply listen without getting on an advice-role, they could pick a chit, give me the date, and we would set time aside on the given date for speaking-listening time. I wanted to leave the children space to decide if they wanted to do this, and stay away from peer pressure, in case they did not want to.

So far, I have met with five of my children. I was expecting to hear of difficulties in learning, home situations, friends and family relationships, that sort of thing. The kind that makes a person who loves giving advice feel all the more important and justified in giving advice. Silly me.

I am astounded that some of them chose to come and speak to me of things they could have come up to me about at any time! One child came and told me that he hadn’t received his SpellBee book in spite of his having paid the money. He said this while we sat apart from the rest of the class to give him some privacy. Another child told me she was unhappy with the seating arrangement because it estranged her from the rest of the girls (I hadn’t realised I had planned the seating rather badly where she was concerned), and when I asked her why she hadn’t brought this to my attention earlier, she just looked at me. A third child used his ‘date card’ to tell me that someone thought he was good enough in football to be sponsored and so he was going to a neighbouring state to play with a sponsorship. Apparently, his mother was also considering putting him in a sports hostel so he could pursue football professionally — exactly what he has dreamed of for awhile.

These extremely short exchanges have me realising that these children long to share even little things, and they don’t really get to. They feel their voices will not be heard among the commotion of judgement, rules and advice. It does break ones heart. It makes me wish I had been wiser to this earlier in the year, not when our academic year is drawing to a close. However, it is a lesson learnt, and I hope to carry this through — to always pay attention to the need of people to talk. This includes listening to my own two, little sons, Pixie and Roo.

As a teacher and an event coordinator, I am constantly in touch with people, talking and listening, dealing with high noise levels that appear to stay in the background in an endless droning. When I come home, I long to rest my ears, to sit in silence and soak it up. But, with my family needing attention, that is not something that happens regularly. I try to make it a point to lend my ears to my sons on our twenty-minute drives to and from school. At home, as well, they get their time. They also have an eager Papa waiting to listen to them.

So, when do I get to talk?

To be honest, I’m a chatterbox myself, and my husband gets hit by the brunt of it. I also trouble extended family and close friends with my endless chatter. But, I am on a mission, now, to talk less and listen more. So, less boring my family and friends, and more listening, especially to the words that are left unspoken and everything in between.