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Sometimes We Don’t Need to Fix It, We Just Need to Shut Up and Listen

One of the key things I have learned from my wife, as well as some staff members, is that it is often more about listening than it is about problem-solving. Although there are many times when a problem needs to be fixed, there are times when our only job is to listen, sympathize, and/or empathize with what the person is telling us.

I recall a colleague telling me about a time in which he sat and listened to the many things that were wrong with a teacher’s class and how she was frustrated with a lack of support for her students. My colleague told me that after he listened, he worked hard to change a number of schedules to provide more support for this teacher. I am sure, if he is like me, he was proud of his efforts in helping to solve the problem. When he went to the teacher and shared his solutions, she became even more frustrated and said, “I wasn’t looking for changes… I just wanted you to listen!”. He spent the next few hours undoing his solutions.

In a meeting a few years ago, I brought up the topic of staff room dialogue. I said that I felt that the focus of the majority of conversations should be about working toward a solution rather than merely voicing concerns. A colleague responded, “sometimes, we just need to vent and not solve the problems.” At the time I struggled to comprehend this but as I grow, along with the help of a number of conversations with my wife, I am starting to realize that sometimes the most important thing I can do is… shut up and listen.

Check out this short entertaining video that shares this point… #lessonlearned (Thanks to Michal Ruhr for sharing)

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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls. Currently working as the Principal of James Hill Elementary School (K-5) in Langley, BC, Canada. Passionate about strengths-based education and leadership, assessment, and human motivation.

8 Comments

  1. This is so true, with both adults and kids. I’ve learned so much about my students this year by asking “What’s up?” and listening to what they have to say. Great message and awesome video!

    • Well said – a simple question like “what’s up” can lead to an actual conversation (as opposed to the “why did you…” question). When we provide a platform for someone to speak, we can often learn a lot more. Thanks for adding this angle!

  2. Hi Chris,

    I continue to enjoy reading your perspective on things – it’s refreshing and pushes my thinking forward. I agree that sometimes, we do just want someone to listen. I’ve heard time and time again, however, that people don’t feel like there voice is being heard unless they see some kind of change as a result of their venting. I guess the struggle is trying to determine when people want us to just “shut up and listen” ๐Ÿ™‚ and when they want more action…maybe that’s something that is more evident when the relationship between the two parties is strong. In the end, the fact that someone trusts another person enough to vent or confide in them is wonderful and a great starting point! Thanks for listening, Chris. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Carmela

    • Hey Carmela – I agree, we need to work to determine the purpose of the conversation because sometimes, as you have stated, if we listen and do not act, it may come across that we did not listen and trust can be lost. We do not have to agree, but we need to listen… if we do not agree and no action will result, we need to state this in a respectful and reflective manner, often after some time to think.

  3. I recently wrote a post on decision-making from the perspective of a new administrator. What I realised as I wrote it was that decision-making is all about listening before a decision is made and listening after a decision is made (after all, not all will like the decision).

    Fun video!
    Janet | expateducator.com

  4. Great post Chris! Sometimes simply listening to our staff gives them the opportunity to not only be/feel heard, but also the opportunity to verbalize what is concerning them (get it out of their head). Often through listening and them verbalizing the concern, they come up with the path to move forward and what they can do to change the situation themselves. The power of listening and reflecting can give people the chance of finding the solutions they already know deep down. My wife appreciates it as well:)

    • Well said, buddy. I find using this as an empathy step with students really works as well. As you said, solutions that come from within are the best ones!

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