What is Listening?

What is Listening?

Posted on March 22, 2021

I’ve had a few different conversations recently about listening: What the point of listening is and how we do (or don’t!) Listen!
As a daughter, sister, partner, friend, teacher and leader I have said ‘you are not listening to me!’ or ‘are you listening to me? ‘many times. Often with growing frustration. I’ve had it said to me from my brother, parents, partner, friends, a child, staff line manager and member of staff. There have also been times when I simply haven’t spoken up as I was sure the audience wouldn’t listen to me.
What I have come to realise, through my experience and through pulling together different strands of training over the years, is that there are many different types of listening, and may different ways to respond to someone when you have listened to them. I’m also really interested when people talk about ‘the listening ear’ and ‘active listening’- again there are quite a few facets to both of these descriptors.
What I do know is that when I am participating in a discussion as a coach or as a supervisor I have an intensive focus on me listening effectively and draw on my experience of listening and being listened to.
So here are my thoughts;

Listening to respond

This is where you may end up in a disagreement or misunderstanding if the emotions behind it are powerful and beginning to overwhelm.

However, there is a place for this, as there are times when it is a question or query that is being said.

Listening to understandThis is a big part of coaching and supervision and effective leadership. Yes, you will still be responding, but it is about ensuring that you are truly hearing what is being said to you, through words and through non-verbal cues so that your response is measured, calm and worthwhile
Listening to empathise and/or sympathiseWe have all had those moments when someone just wants to vent, or share something, good or bad. Here what they want is acknowledgement and validation.
Listen to give advice/solutionsThis is mentoring or when you are seen as the expert. Someone wants or needs you to give them a solution, or want you to advise what you would do in their position. Be warned, be sure that this IS what they want, or you may end up with frustration!
Listen to ensure the person has understood you and what you have saidThis became increasingly important for me when launching initiatives or trying to shift culture. I had had a discussion, I thought what I said was clear and obvious, but then I would ask a key question, or ‘check for feedback’ and what they would say was something different, So do this listening at key points so that you are making sure they have really grasped the main points that you wanted them to, and they understand them.
Listening to see who has the biggest voice and who is not engaging or being drowned outI am often fascinated by team dynamics, and will often sit back, watch and listen to a group discussion. Who is leading, who is engaging what listening styles, who is being silent and disengaging, who looks animated and who looks confused? And is there a way to rebalance or check in?
Listening to see who has the same values, ethics and ideals as us and who doesn’t.We often seek allies and gravitate to those that seem similar to ourselves. Particularly in friendships, in employment and we desire it in family. Having that internal debate to decide shall I engage in this discussion in the pub, around coffee stand at the conference, in the staff room can sometimes lead us to decide no, and this is ok!

What I do know is that sometimes listening is an effort, particularly when stressed or tired or desperately trying to get something done to a deadline! I also know it is ok to say ‘I cant listen just now, but lets talk in the morning, in an hour or let me grab a coffee first.’ All listening types require dialogue, and acknowledging that you can’t listen right now is better than half listening!

The power of Listening, and being Heard (Thank you NHS)

The power of Listening, and being Heard (Thank you NHS)

Posted on February 27, 2021

The power of listening, and of being heard!

The last two weeks I have been on a bit of a journey with the NHS. Challenging during the lockdown, but ultimately a positive experience and I have been well cared for all the way through. It got me thinking again about listening, about being heard, but then also the ‘so what/what next’ stage.

From the 15th to 24th February, I had 4 appointments over the phone with photos shared with the GP. They were great and attempted to fix me. This also included a virtual walk in session over video at the weekend. On the fourth appointment the GP response was ‘you need to go to A&E.’ Our treatment isn’t working, this may need intervention.

So my partner drops me at A&E, I am triaged. However, I need to go to Huddersfield as that is where the SAU unit is and I am in Halifax. They are apologetic, can I get there myself or do I need transport? My partner is called and dutifully he taxis me over.

When I enter SAU in Huddersfield, my name and info is already on the board. they were expecting me. A nurse comes and does my observations and I sit.

I am then taken to a room, a lovely doctor has a brief look and touch, and then agrees it is an abscess and it is looking nasty and it needs to be drained, today. It is now 2:45pm. They are going to put me on the list, find me a bed and get it sorted. He goes through the pro’s and cons of local v general anaesthetic, I vote for General, he smiles, a little relieved, I think that is the right choice he says, before running through the risks again. He runs through my medical history and allergies again and then says he’ll find out timing. At this point I message my partner, I need my glasses, as I had put in my contacts before leaving the house. The doctor comes back, good news he says, we will have a bed for you, we can do this today. Not so good news, I am on a waiting list so will not go down for a few hours yet, that greatly increases the chances of staying overnight. I ask if my partner can bring a bag and my glasses, he says absolutely, he can drop them off (He can’t come in though). Instructions dispatched to partner and I get in my gown.

At this point I am impressed by the speed, efficiency and organisation. I am also incredibly impressed by the level of care and compassion shown. The staff are getting on and doing their job but also listening and noticing and responding. I am feeling safe and ok.

My bag is dropped and brought to me by a nurse, we have a little giggle as my partner had got a little lost on the way!

I am taken to ward 1 as the bed is ready. New staff, same level of compassion and care despite the fact they are obviously busy. People pop by to see me, to check on me, my allergies, my history. To give me the heads up on timing and the fact that it will be shift change so the people talking to me now about the operation will not be the ones doing it. (A nice touch).

I go down bang on 8pm, as they said I would, having a nice  little chat as we go about  nothing in particular. COVID has not been mentioned at all, apart from when they apologised as I had to do a test. It is hovering around us though, with the masks and the distancing where possible and the endless hand sanitisers around the place.

Into theatre. They realise there is no cannula in. I apologise, I have very awkward deep veins and after they had trouble getting blood in Halifax A&E decisions had been made to leave it to the ‘experts’ in theatre to do it when needed. I can sense a few wry and cheerful smiles even with the masks, not to worry we’ll sort it they say. I inform them of the best site, and reassure them that I won’t feint or vomit or anything and then there are four of them trying to get the blasted thing in me and reassuring me at the same time. Calm heads, soothing voices, determination and some local anaesthetic so they could adjust it works. It is in and I am falling asleep.

I wake up. Dry mouth, very dry mouth, they have water ready to sip. Cheerful voices again welcoming me back. Success they tell me. So I’m heading back to the ward. I am brought toast, the best toast ever, and a lovely proper cup of tea. I know I am going to get very little sleep, this is ok with me, I read, they pop in doing observations on me and my fellow patient in the bed next door. The night ebbs and flows, although they are clearly being quiet there is still noise. At one point I hear gentle laughter from the nurses station. It is a strangely reassuring sound. Amongst all the bustling and work and difficulties in the current situation there is clearly camaraderie and team work on this ward. I like it.

From 7am things get more bustling, a very cheerful loud fun support worker comes in and announces it is breakfast time and what do we fancy? He also tells us he likes our bay as it is cool (we had the window open all night!) We get introduced to the day staff as shift change has occurred again. The doctor comes to see me. Very happy, I can go home! The nurse will just change my dressing and do my paperwork and remove my cannula and then I can go.

I message my partner excited. I am coming home! ‘How soon?’ he asks. I’m not entirely sure, but this morning. (I am aware that sometimes discharge can take time!) The nurse comes in, right lets get you sorted she says. She is going to discharge me now! I am crazy excited, she smiles. I apologise, she says there’s no need, it is good to send patients home happy and feeling ok. She does what she needs to do quickly, efficiently and with compassion and then I’m in my clothes and go meet my partner at the entrance. I am home by 9:30am.

Our NHS is amazing. I am proud to be in a country that has such a service. But mostly this last two weeks I have been truly struck at how all that I have come in contact with have listened, really listened despite the current situation and restrictions, and got me the care and outcome I needed. I can not say it loud enough, thank you to the staff at my GP’s, the walk in centre and in particular the amazing wonderful staff at SAU and Ward 1 of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. I spoke, you listened, you cared and you healed me.

What’s a Wellbeing Umbrella?

What’s a Wellbeing Umbrella?

Posted on February 9, 2021

Listen to Jenny explaining what the wellbeing umbrella is.

Make sure you are under the umbrella too!

Make sure you are under the umbrella too!

Posted on January 28, 2021

Wellbeing. It’s vital isn’t it? We talk about it frequently with staff, with our pupils, with families. We think about it regularly, for our staff, for our pupils, for our families. Many schools have wellbeing polices, wellbeing plans, wellbeing as part of their curriculum offer and wellbeing sessions or meetings for staff. But there is a storm out there all the time, and do we think enough about our wellbeing as leaders?

People often use the phrase ‘put on your oxygen mask before helping others’ as a quote for ensuring your own wellbeing, but I often think that this is about when entering crisis mode, or extremely high levels of stress. I am a fan of the umbrella metaphor, the umbrella that protects from the storm. So, make sure you’re also under the umbrella you hold. I find this metaphor really works, because it may also be, if you are holding the umbrella over your staff, who is holding an umbrella over you? Maybe you do have good coverage from an umbrella, and you are doing ok, that is great! (Make sure you stay under the umbrella!)

However, leaders sometimes find themselves in the position of just holding an umbrella to protect their staff and community from the storm, maybe patching and mending the umbrella as they are holding it. Their staff are protected; some may get a little splash from the storm, but on the whole they are warm and dry. But what of the leader? There they are, cold, wet and battered by the storm as they are not under that umbrella they are mending and holding.

Why is the leader not under the umbrella? This could be for many reasons, (or a combination of them)

  • They don’t feel they should be under the umbrella; it is not for ‘the leader’.
    • They feel they should ‘be strong’ they think that they are in service for their staff and community and should be holding it all together. It may be the leader as a martyr or the Superhead. It may be they feel that they are the holder, but not able to shelter under it.
  • The staff do not welcome them under the umbrella.
    • This is a cultural issue, an ‘us vs them’ mentality, seeing the leaders as others or separate. This could be dangerous and unhealthy in the long run.
  • They thought they had an umbrella over them, held by a COG or CEO.
    • This is so hard to come to terms with, when the support they thought was there is not. Or it is the leaky umbrella, the umbrella that folds and breaks with the slightest pressure.
  • They do not realise they are not under the umbrella…. until the lightning hits…
    • A very dangerous scenario, leading potentially to mental health issues and physical illness. The burnout and confusion-how did this happen? (when their resilience is worn away)

In this context I am not only thinking of headteachers (although sadly I do feel that it is many of them that are not under a good enough umbrella) it is also the deputies, the safeguarding leads and the SENDCo’s. The heads of department, the school business managers and the CEO’s.

So, if you realise you are not under the umbrella, what should you do? First of all you need to pause, reflect on why you are not, and get some help. This is not admitting that you are no good at your job, this is about saying I am a member of staff too, this is my right. Having some excellent coaching and/or supervision is a good tool to use to get your umbrella up, but you also need to have a great umbrella; what should your umbrella consist of?

Please take some time, no matter how busy you are, to check your wellbeing umbrella. Maybe you can remake the organisation/school/team umbrella with your staff. There are resources out there. (Purplemoon can project manage this for you, and we are not the only ones that can offer this). There are some excellent books and podcasts on this topic, Kat Howard’s book ‘Stop Talking about Wellbeing’ immediately springs to mind.

Wellbeing is not an add on, it is not the next cliché or buzzword. Everyone should be under the umbrella. Everyone should help decide what the umbrella is made from and maybe everyone should be holding the umbrella up. Everyone should be protected from the storm. Whatever the storm is.

Of course, work should also be ongoing to dissipate the storm(s), but perhaps that is another blog!