What Do You Do All Day?

Like most children, I’d imagine, my children ask me this from time to time: what do you do all day?

They know that I teach one English class and that I’m also a school administrator. They know that I squeeze in some writing when I can. But they have no idea what I’m doing when I’m in meetings, which take up a lot of my days and sometimes nights. On the surface, especially when we’re at home sharing work spaces, it looks like I spend a lot of time just talking with people.

That’s true . . . with a twist . . .

I spend a lot of time asking people questions so that they will talk to me, think out loud in front of me, uncover solutions or opportunities within earshot of me. I spend a lot of time, in other words, converting what is hidden or silent or garbled into something to which I can listen deeply. If I reach that point, my highest point of contribution is usually complete (the speaker figured it out) or just about to begin (I offer what I can offer).

Here are some questions I asked this week that led to particularly generative listening moments for me.

  • Are you looking for input on your decision or input on the planning that will result from your decision?
  • Where do you think an organization like ours should put its energy and resources over the next few years?
  • What, specifically, are you practicing in order to get better in this area? How do you know it’s the right thing to practice? What does the practice actually look like?
  • Are we talking about first order effects or second order effects?
  • What would you write if you had to deliver this memo in the next thirty minutes?
  • What would the meeting agenda be if you had to write it in the next fifteen minutes?
  • What can we take out?
  • If they could only use their attention on one part of that assignment, what part would matter most? Why not cut out all the rest?
  • How was that argument constructed to be convincing to you? Now that you’ve thought about that, are you still convinced?
  • If you could only keep three ideas from that presentation, what would they be?
  • We know how it works now, but in what ways is it also beautiful?
  • I just gave you some honest feedback . . . what words specifically express how you are feeling right now?
  • Anyone else I should talk to about this?
  • Are you looking for an opinion or just an ear?
  • We’ve seen what stress looks like for you — you worked really hard at _____ — so what does rest look like?

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