I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.
Listening is a skill, which requires both attention and intention. It starts with our ears—making sense of words as well as of the speaker’s tone—and it also involves our eyes, because body language can say a lot. Importantly, though, deep listening requires that we push the MUTE button on our internal commentary. And this last step is probably one of the hardest, because rather than truly listen to what another says, we too often merely hear a word or an idea that connects with something we want to say. There is an old proverb that states, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” It would be more accurate if it explained that the reason for two ears and one mouth is that it’s twice as hard to listen as it is to talk.
I mentioned in a previous weekly update how “noisy” it is on campus. There is an incredible barrage of activities and happenings constantly. There are 40+ students on campus and as many staff. This past week, each of our students engaged in a few activities to bring some focus to this difficult, but necessary social expectation. We started with the game Telephone. The old-timey game where someone starts off by whispering a sentence in someone’s ear. That person then whispers into the next person and so on, until it makes it all the way around the group. The result is always hilarious, but the point is that even in a simple game, it’s hard to listen with full focus and attention.
In another activity we split groups into two sections. One group were the talkers, and the second, listeners. The talkers were to engage into a topic of passion for three minutes, uninterrupted. The listeners were instructed to raise their hand each time they wanted to interrupt, became distracted, or drifted into thoughts of personal experience. There were constant hand-raisings. The students were able to recognize how difficult it was being an active listener, to not personalize the conversation, and to actually be fully present. This also shared a unique perspective to the talkers as to their audience, and the internal reactions their peers are having during a conversation.
To practice active listening, a third activity was facilitated. In pairs, one student would describe in detail all of the ideals of an incredible vacation. Explain each of their desires, expectations, needs, etc. After this explanation, the second student would pair their ideals and make a suggestion as to where they should go. This encouraged students to not only hear what was being said, but to also process the words into conversation reengagement, revolving around the initial statements.
Each night on campus I take the opportunity to sit down and have a meal with one of our groups of students. It is an incredible opportunity to build rapport, share in their growth, and listen. Whether it be stories of the weekend field trip to Acadia National Park, or a book that a student is reading, a moment of pride related to progress, or some validation around struggle and frustration…these are moments of elevated value, human to human. It is a daily challenge and effort for each of us as staff, students and parents, to pause, push away the distractions in our minds, look the other in the eye and listen with full attention and interest. As we all work on this together, we should follow the lead of our Ironwood students who are quick to acknowledge peers and staff with the Ironwood encouraged reply, “I hear you”.
Thank you for placing your trust in Ironwood. We are grateful for the opportunity to be of service to you family and we hope that you have a great weekend.