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Administrative Listening

posted Mar 17, 2012, 10:10 AM by Rick Colo

If you want to see a great article on executive listening, go to, Bernard Ferrari’s “The executive’s guide to better listening” in McKinsey Quarterly.

 As some of you know, I’m trying to figure out how to help turnaround schools. This is the bottom 10% of schools. The article, supported the belief that I have that the key is not so much the expert, principal, director, or superintendent knowing everything on what to do to help a turn around a school, but to listen to the stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, and administrators) in those schools. The key points in the article that I think will help are:

•     Listen to the conversation partners to draw out critical information.

•     Ask something similar “Is there anything left that you haven’t told me . . . because I don’t want you to leave this room and go down the hall to your buddy’s office and tell him that I just didn’t get it.” Or when noticing skeptical non-verbal cues, “You don’t quite agree with me on this one, do you? Why is that?”

•     Shoot for 80% listening time and 20% speaking time – and most of the speaking time is asking questions.

•     Relax your assumptions.

•     Make sure everyone speaks and don’t accept silence or complacency from anyone.

•     The goal is common action, not common thinking, expect the people on your team to stand up to you whenever they disagree with your ideas.


I really like the example of changing to the realm of the hypothetical where people can challenge underling assumptions: “We’re assuming a 10 percent attrition rate in our customer base. What if that rate was 20 percent? How would our strategy change?” I can certainly see the same line of questioning applied to school turnaround plans. We could ask, “What if the reading proficiency only went up 5% instead of 25%? What would we do at that point? What if we went up 50%?”