Last week I started our self-coaching for communication skills experiment. Each two weeks, I (along with close to 300 other hardy souls) will be trying to coach myself on how to be a better communicator. The information gathered from this experiment will eventually become part of a new book I’m working on about professional learning.
Our first project is to improve listening skills by trying the following: 1. Commiting to listening, 2. Making sure my partner is the speaker, 3. Pausing before speaking and asking “Will my comments open up or close down this conversation?”
All of us have tried stuff like this. We all read great books by people like Stephen Covey or Susan Scott, and we want to do what the books say, we really do, but … somehow not much happens.
So for this experiment, we’re trying something different: self-coaching. What we do is we video or audio record ourselves in communication, and we then watch the video to see how well we do. The idea is that we can provide our own feedback and follow-up as we try to be good listeners.
Well I’ve been doing my self-coaching, and what I have found is, as Montgomery Gentry so eloquently stated, “This ain't about easy it's about tough.” Indeed, David Bowey & 2Pac say the same thing.
Really looking at how you communicate, well, it can be tough.
My first experiment, I must admit, was, despite Montgomery Gentry’s insight into life, pretty easy. My conversation partner was passionately interested in her topic, and the purpose of the conversation was simply for me to learn what she had to teach me about a project in Alberta. Positioned as a learner, listening to someone who was enthusiastic about a topic that mattered to me, all I had to do was keep myself from interrupting and let her have the conversation. All in all it went pretty well, and I was feeling like a pretty effective communicator.
But then Jenny, the love of my life, and I had a conversation about home renovations. Jenny wants some; me, not so much. That conversation wasn’t so easy. OK it was maybe a little tough.
What is really interesting (and embarrassing) is that until I watched myself, I was convinced that I had done a fantastic job listening to Jen. The video evidence, however, gave me away. I interrupted, I cut Jenny off, I judged what she was going to say, long before she had come close to finishing. Our conversation was gracious, and loving, Jenny made me laugh, but I also I frequently did a terrible job of listening.
Watching the video of the conversation taught me a couple things. First, I really have very little idea what I look like performing the important tasks of my life—like talk with me wife. Second, video can really help me get a better idea of what I am really doing. Third, when I have the painful awareness of how I’m performing, I am motivated to improve. I just can’t handle being the jerky guy in the video recording, and I’m going to try to do the tough work of getting better. The video recordings will help me see if I am really doing any better.
All of this has real implications for coaching teachers. Many of you are experimenting with the self-coaching experiment along with me. People across Canada, the US, Singapore, India and other parts of the world are now also practicing self-coaching.
So if you are in on this party, what are you learning? I’d love to hear how self-coaching is working (or not working) for you. How do you see self-coaching help us as we work with teachers. I’d love to hear anything you’d like to share. My bet is that together we can learn a lot.