Last week, I was fortunate to be able to spend some time at a local elementary school working with kindergarten and first grade students in an after-school gardening club. When the students first arrived to the classroom we would be using, they were pretty well behaved. They sat in their chairs, listened to my directions, and began working with me to plant seeds. I was so impressed by how well they were doing that I encouraged the aide who usually sits in on the class to go to another classroom that was short staffed. As the afternoon progressed and we moved on to a craft, things began to break down. One student made his way to the teacher’s desk and started fiddling with her person items, one child climbed onto a tall stack of chairs, and two others decided that the newly planted seeds needed more water. As I was scurrying around the room trying to collect the children, the aide return and realized I needed help. She spoke loudly to the kids, pointed to a poster on the wall, and read these directions: “Legs! Laps! Lips! Look! Listen!” Quickly, the students snapped back to the attentive listeners they had been when they’d first arrived. We were able to wrap up the crafts without much problem, and I was thankful to have gotten the inside scoop on good listening. (As it turns out, there’s a plethora of information out there about teaching children to listen, like this great website from Disney family.)
In chapter six of Timothy Franz’s book Group Dynamics and Team Interventions, the author stresses the importance of being an active listener as a way of helping your team communication function as effectively as possible. Too often in our group settings, we are just like the kids in my program – so distracted by other things around us that we often quickly forget to monitor ourselves for active listening. Whether cell phones, emails, or just the laundry list of to-dos in our minds, we forget to focus on the moment and give our full attention to those who are trying to communicate with us. We miss important ideas, concerns, and so many other messages that are being conveyed through facial expressions and body posture.
Keeping a simple memory tool like “Legs! Laps! Lips! Look! Listen!” in the forefront of our minds may seem a little childish, but I would encourage you to give it a try. The next time a coworker or fellow team member tries to talk with you, take just a moment and stop your legs, put your hands in your lap (not on your phone), close your lips, turn and look at the speaker, and really focus on listening to what they have to say. You might be amazed at how much more you’ll take away from the interaction.