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Creating an “I’m listening” Culture

November 27, 2022
5 minute read

Each and every day, early years leaders listen. From parents giving information at drop off, to staff supervisions, from listening to the babbles of the babies, to the advice of external professionals, listening is something we do a lot.  However, whilst all this listening is an inherent part of our role, creating an “I’m listening” culture in your setting will not only make your setting run smoothly, it will  help you meet your goals, move your setting forward and ultimately drive outstanding practice.

What’s more, listening is critical to building good relationships as a leader. When you actively listen to others it demonstrates that you are interested in their needs, you respect what they have to say and you want to understand what they are communicating to you. When people feel heard and respected, they are more likely to follow your leadership.

Effective listening is also crucial to increasing occupancy. As an early years leader, you might not consider yourself a salesperson, however, during those important tours of your setting, you are selling a nursery space to that family. You are trying to influence their decision to choose you as the nursery for them.  By effectively listening during this tour, you will demonstrate to the family that you care about their needs, and that their child will be safe and happy in your nursery. It’s important to truly understand what a family wants from a setting to be able to demonstrate how you can offer them the services they need.

What is Effective Listening?

Effective listening, an active form of listening, goes beyond simply hearing. While you hear with your ears (we’ve all heard about good listening ears right?) effective listening involves listening with your entire body, all of your senses, including your ears, eyes, heart and brain. To listen effectively is to listen with the intention of understanding, rather than the intention of responding.

When you listen effectively, you are not just hearing the words. You are listening to the tone of the words,  and observing the body language of the person you are listening to. This isn’t a skill that comes easily, it takes time and practice, particularly in a busy setting, where we don’t sit still for 5 minutes! However, by practicing effective listening, we are telling the person, “I’m really listening to you” and therefore, creating an “I’m listening culture”.

How to Listen Effectively

Effective listening doesn’t always come easily. There are many barriers to effective listening such as;

Waiting to respond: It is so easy to pretend to be listening, whilst really you are formulating your response before the person has finished what they are communicating.  If you find yourself thinking about how you will respond to someone before they’ve completed their communication to you, you will not receive the complete message from them. As early years leaders, many of us are active problem solvers. We want to provide a solution or an answer quickly, but this often leads to the person feeling unheard.

Passing Judgment: People can often judge others before hearing what they have to say. Judging someone on aspects such as their appearance, background, or language barriers often determines the way we respond.  Such judgments can prevent us from really listening to the message the person is trying to deliver.

Multitasking: Early years life is busy, everyone needs you, so it’s easy to start multitasking. Checking an email while chatting to a colleague, reading a text message that pings through during a supervision, writing a report while on a training zoom call. All of these things minimise your attention and give the person the impression that you are not interested in what they have to say.

Fact Finding: Did you know that according to research, words only convey 7% of the message we want to send? Tone, body language, emotion and feeling are all essential components in the message we wish to send to the recipient.  To really ensure you are listening effectively, pay attention to the emotions behind the facts, the expression through body language, and the tone of the message.

So, if you know what the challenges are, how can you develop your own effective listening skills?

Be mindful of your own approach, and ask yourself, am I effectively listening here or am I just waiting for them to finish so I can move on?

Remember that to be truly effective at listening, you must be willing to understand the message from the other persons perspective.

Think about the tone, the body language and the emotion, not just the words.

Practice, practice and practice some more in order to strengthen your listening skills to improve your communication and leadership and develop that “I’m listening” culture.

If you enjoyed this blog post, check out this great blog post on leading and managing your setting Leading and Managing your Nursery - 5 Great Ways To Manage Your Time | Early Years Leadership

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