If you listen, you’ll be surprised. And when you’re surprised, you’re not bored. That’s a good thing if you’ve been doing this job for a long time. It’s counter-intuitive, but true, that the listener has a lot of control over where a conversation goes, as I discovered in my doctor’s office one day. Just as I was asking the third question on my prepared list, she got up and walked towards the door. I knew immediately that my appointment was over. Before I knew it, I had stopped talking, got up and followed her to the door.
So if you want your students to talk, you can make that happen with Body language, Eye contact, Following their words, putting yourself On-the-Level and Relaxing. Here’s more about BEFOR.
If you’ve been reading or writing about active listening, there’s nothing in BEFOR that you don’t already know. However, it serves to remind me to get ready to listen BEFOR I ask, “How are things going?”
Make Yourself Uncomfortable
The tricky part about listening is to be willing to be uncomfortable yourself, in order to make the other person comfortable. If you’re working across cultures, it means making the eye contact that they are used to, even if you find it hard; it means accepting the physical distance between you that they find comfortable, even if it makes you squirm a little. If you’re working across age differences, it may mean listening to their music in the background, not yours.
(This is the first of five strategies for developing stronger relationships with learners. You will find all five written up here.)