Power Listening: Making Better Decisions

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This is my second post related to the book, Power Listening by Bernard Ferrari (2012).

According to Ferrari, listening is the front end of decision making; it is the most efficient route to informing the judgments that need to be made (p. 13).

Rather than immediately suggest a solution, Ferrari counsels us to approach a conversation as an opportunity to learn. Furthermore, he believes that everybody is a case study with an N of one!

Some clarifying questions when engaged in a conversation in which a decision is needed or an opinion is being asked:

  • So are you telling me we should do this?
  • Does this mean you think we move in this direction?
  • You don’t quite agree with me on this one, do you? Why is that?
  • Am I missing something here?
  • Are we on the same page with this?
  • I hear you, but I’m just not prepared to agree yet. Maybe I could hear a little more at a later date?

One nugget I took away from the book was “Will my comment or question cause my conversation partner (CP) to say more? Not more in terms of just words, but more in terms of analysis, information, insights?” (p. 44).

While this is still very much a work in progress for me, in the past 6 months or so, I have been able to employ this approach to good effect. Whereas in the past, I may have left a meeting or a conversation having assumed a course of action, I now try to challenge that assumption to bring greater clarity…and hopefully better decision making!

Power Listening – It’s a Skill

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As part of a book study group, I recently read Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All by Bernard T. Ferrari (2012).

What I liked about this book was Ferrari’s insistence on listening being a skill that “demands conscious attention and constant practice” (p. xi). Despite the importance of listening – it’s the only way to find out what you don’t know – there is a gap in the market of how to learn how to do it well. For example, Ferrari highlights that “of the nearly 300 communications courses offered by the American Management Association, only two deal directly with listening skills” (p. 3). This book seeks to fill that gap.

According to Ferrari, good listening doesn’t take time, it buys time because nothing wastes more time than bad decisions. It is with this call to active listening with our conversation partners that he highlights 6 different types of listeners:

  1. The Opinionator – this person only listens to others to confirm their own ideas and opinions.
  2. The Grouch – this person is certain your ideas are wrong and has contempt for other people’s ideas.
  3. The Preambler – this person has windy lead-ins and questions, which are really stealth speeches often designed to box in the conversation partner.
  4. The Perseverator – this person talks too much. His goal is not to sharpen the focus of the discussion, but to speak in order to sharpen his own point, or to shoehorn his conversation partner’s thoughts into supporting his prejudices and biases.
  5. The Answer Man – this person starts offering solutions before there is even agreement about what the challenge might be. His impatience is often his undoing.
  6. The Pretender – this person is not really interested in what his conversation partner might have to say, and so he will listen but never act on what he hears.

Ferrari believes that we might be all of the above in different contexts. As I read about the different types of people, I resolved not to be some of these people!

Separating work and life: Are you technologically tethered to your workplace?

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If you own a smartphone, the chances are that you have used it in the last hour. For many of us, our smartphone is our lifeline to the outside world, whether it is social media, the news, games, or keeping up with e-mail. The literature on mobile e-mail reveals a vigorous debate raging between proponents of the device’s efficiency and functionality, while detractors highlight the ways in which it can take over the user’s life and even enslave him/her. Others have taken a more measured approach and discussed the technology both in terms of its positives and its negatives. As such, the scholars agree that smartphones or “mobile e-mail,” allow users to be always on, anywhere, and at any time (AAA). These AAA qualities enable users to be more productive and balance out their e-mail workload by making use of spare moments. However, because mobile e-mail is able to penetrate the micro moments of users’ lives, the technology makes it possible for users to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The question is, is this a bad thing?

One researcher found that although participants would say they felt BlackBerrys were a positive force in their lives, she concluded “the very acts that define balance for BlackBerry users are clear signals of imbalance to those around them, resulting in strong opposition to the devices from non-users.” This opposition from non-users has been noted in the popular press, with terms like “BlackBerry orphans,” “BlackBerry widows,” and smartphone-induced “family feuds” appearing more frequently. Smartphones have become so successful because they can change any place into a workplace, which is exactly why there are so reviled by those who are stuck watching the back of a phone at dinner, or some other social interaction in which the user is “absently present.”

Additionally, there are negative health consequences for this “technologically tethered” worker because (s)he is is unable to “switch off.” As researchers have noted, smartphones enable uncompensated, supplementary work and so rather than reducing work-home conflict and increasing job control, they actually have the opposite effect. Workers’ inability to switch off may now lead to increased stress and possible burnout. Furthermore, the use of smartphones may negatively affect an employee’s coping mechanisms through the removal of perceived controls of workload and work boundaries. Researchers have thus concluded that the ability to communicate and work anytime, anywhere has led to many workers being unable to maintain a healthy separation between their work and personal lives. As such, negative individual and organizational outcomes may be expected in work environments where workers are “technologically tethered” – be it by smartphones, in particular, or e-mail, in general.

In my own research, I found that those teachers and administrators who used a smartphone for work purposes struggled to maintain a healthy separation between their professional and personal lives. In addition to balancing work and personal commitments, one question that remains unanswered is the cost of making work decisions through e-mail outside of a work context. Are the decisions in some way impacted by the lack of work context? What are the consequences of these decisions? One of my study’s recommendations was that organizations need to develop policies, or guidelines for the changes that e-mail and smartphones have brought to the workplace. While all organizations have Acceptable Use Policies for the Internet and e-mail, very few (if any!) have Philosophy of Use Policies (e.g. what is/is not appropriate for e-mail communication, what are acceptable response times, and what is the expected availability of users?).

If you are interested in Dr. Jordan’s research on e-mail and organizational communication, please feel free to contact him at jamesedwardjordan@gmail.com

Book Review of The Trust Factor: Strategies for School Leaders

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The Trust Factor: Strategies for School Leaders
Julie Peterson Combs, Stacey Edmonson, and Sandra Harris
Eye on Education
2013

Trust is difficult to define. It is a relationship between individuals. It is an environment. It is like an essential element in the air that allows individuals and their organizations to breathe. However, it often goes unnoticed in high trust organizations, and, in low trust organizations, the absence of trust may only be recognized when asphyxia takes hold and it’s too late.

Weaving together research, experience, and plain common sense, Combs, Edmonson, and Harris make the case that trust matters in schools. The case is well made. According to a 2002 study by Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider, there appears to be compelling evidence that the level of trust in schools is a stronger predictor of student achievement than socioeconomic status. On this basis alone, The Trust Factor should be required reading in all principal preparation programs.

Although this book is designed for school leaders, many of the concepts are useful for teachers, too. For example, the authors identify the 4 Cs of trust as:

  1. Competence
  2. Care
  3. Character
  4. Communication

Each of the 4 Cs are characteristics to which all educators should aspire; however, it never hurts to be reminded of where we should aim. In the final analysis, without trust, there will not be much effective teaching or learning taking place in or out of school.

The Trust Factor is organized into three main parts, each of which is then subdivided into 10-15 short (2-4 pages), easy-to-read chapters that contain quotes, resources, advice, and questions for reflection. At the end of each section, there is an assessment. The titles of the sections are as follows:

  1. Trust Busters
  2. Trust Builders
  3. Trust Boosters

The chapters are designed to be stand alone, and, as such, can be read in any order. Both of the first two sections open with an attitude or behavior that either busts or builds trust in an organization. The authors then discuss the behavior, offering perspectives from research literature or personal experience. Following is a series of questions entitled “For Further Reflection,” which asks the reader to consider his or her practice. Finally, there is a very brief section called “Remember” at the end of each chapter, which sums up the “takeaway” for readers. For example, Trust Buster #8 is entitled “It’s Not My Fault” and the takeaway is

“Learning to accept being wrong or making a mistake is an important step in building trust. Accepting responsibility gives you the chance the show that you are human and that you can accept and learn from mistakes, even when they are not your own” (p.27).

The final section, Trust Boosters, is designed to help readers expand on the first two parts of the book. Really, it attempts to synthesize the concepts from previous sections in a positive, applicable manner. If the first section is the most important to stop doing, the lessons of this last one are possibly the most significant for leaders to start/continue to do.

Although school leaders and teachers will be familiar with many, if not all, of the concepts presented in the book, The Trust Factor is an excellent resource for a number of reasons. I could see merit in an administrator browsing through it at the end of the summer because it touches on a number of issues of which a school leader should be mindful going into a new school year. It could also be useful for a school building’s leadership team to read and work through together as a professional development exercise. Alternately, this book could be an important resource to consult in times of crisis, or simply before a meeting of some sort.

All in all, The Trust Factor is an informative, practical resource for educators that sheds light on an important, but often overlooked area of school life. Trust me 🙂

Does that make sense?

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I have often said that to one of my soccer players when I have been trying to get a point across (usually i have fired a lot of information off and I can see I may be losing the player, so it’s a mechanism to get us back on track). When we say this, though, what are we really doing? I imagine this scenario comes up in the business world, too, where the person in charge attempts to communicate something to a colleague/subordinate and they ask if what they have just said makes sense. I wonder how effective this is, though.

In soccer, very rarely do my players say “no, coach, that doesn’t make sense” (although, I have had a couple!). They nod their head and then go out and make the same mistake or they don’t completely “get it”…at least how they were supposed to in my head.

When we ask that phrase, we tend to look for an affirmative answer so we can pat ourselves on the back and know that we did our job. I read somewhere recently that what we are teaching is not of importance; rather, it’s what our players learn that matters. Consequently, I try to ask more questions and listen to what they have heard, or better yet, get them to show me/explain it to someone else and then work from there. This is a tough one, especially for those among us who want to correct every little mistake or direct the minutiae of an activity to ensure it’s “done right.” We are giving up our “control” of the discourse and opening it up to an unknown set of variables (our players!). This is very difficult to do, but we may get a better, more productive outcome this way.

Perhaps instead of saying “does that make sense,” a coach might find it more valuable to employ one of the following techniques:

  • Tell me what you think I want you to do?
  • Can you explain to your teammates what you think I have asked you to do?
  • Even though you may have a lot of questions, can you go out and give me your best effort in trying to do what I have asked and then we can review in a couple of minutes?

Although I have a long way to go on my own journey, when I have tried one of the techniques above, I have found it opens up a dialogue that is a lot more productive than simply asking “does that make sense” and then getting a “yes” response.

Perhaps we are really asking ourselves whether something makes sense when we pose that question!

I would love to hear your feedback on this issue. Does that make sense?

My new book, It Pays to Win on Offense: A game-based approach to developing soccer players that score and create lots of goals, contains over a hundred of these guided discovery questions that help to facilitate deeper understanding of attacking principles in soccer.

Increase Your Scrimmage’s Intensity: The Magic of a Half-way Line!

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Whether you are coaching U4 or U19, every practice needs to end with a scrimmage. I have found the best percentage of a practice devoted to a scrimmage is around 25-33% of the total practice time. That’s right, at the very least, you should let the kids play for a quarter to a third of your entire practice!

Ok, so, you let you kids scrimmage, but you notice a couple of defenders tend to hang out with the goalkeeper and don’t really do much of anything. I often see this on game day, too. First of all, when the play is down the other end of the field, the defense should be pushed up to the half-way line. Yes, the half-way line! Otherwise, you are attacking with 2 or even 3 less players. Are we trying to score goals, or go for a boring 0-0 game?

You might say, “well, I don’t want my defenders to go up because they will get beat over the top.” Yes, you are correct, because if your defenders stay back in games, they more than likely do in your scrimmage games, too. Thus, they never get practice in anticipating when to step up and when to drop back. Because they never get put in situations where they have to make these decisions, they are not able to do so in games, so the safe course of action is to tell them to stay back…and so we have a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to boring soccer and players that don’t think for themselves. 

You must be bold! 

Here is the answer! 

Add a half-way line in your scrimmage games. That’s it!

Ok, that’s almost it. Tell your players, that in order to score a goal, the entire team must be over the half-way line for the goal to count. You should take up your coaching position off to the side by the half-way line (so you can fairly judge if players are over or not), and watch the magic happen.

The first time a team “scores,” but their goal doesn’t count because a player didn’t make it over the half-way line in time will change everything. Try and see.

The benefits of playing this way are:

  • All of your team’s players will be engaged all of the time
  • Players will start communicating with each other, telling each other to “get up,” or “step” (the coach doesn’t even have to say anything!)
  •  The defenders will be forced to make decisions about when to step up the field and when to drop off…they are forced to think! 
  • Your teams will quickly discover that it is beneficial to “press” even when they lose the ball in the opposition’s half because if they win it, they win it close to their opponent’s goal, which makes for an easier goal scoring opportunity!
  • You will train your team to counter attack with game-like speed
  • You will bring a whole new level of intensity to your scrimmages 

Added bonus: Once the players have got used to this game, make a new rule that makes each goal count double if the attacking team “catches” one of the defending team’s players on the other side of the half-way line. This will encourage the defending team to get all of its players back “goal-side” of the ball. 

This works best with U8 teams and up. 

Let me know if you try it and what results you experience. 

~James 

 

Coaching Kids aged 3-6: A Developmental Overview For Soccer

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Overview of this age group:

For children aged 6 and under, they are more than likely playing soccer because a parent signed them up without their knowledge and/or because friends are playing. This doesn’t mean that your players won’t learn to love soccer; however, as the coach, you have a huge responsibility to keep them interested in a game that they may not have chosen for themselves. As such, it is important to understand some basic developmental information about your group. Please note that all kids develop at different rates and they will not develop evenly across all of the domains listed below. Practices should not last longer than 45 minutes and should include a technique-based warm-up, 2-4 activities, followed by a scrimmage. When you include water breaks every 5 or so minutes, the time goes by fast! Leave them wanting to play more soccer! There are no assigned positions in these age groups!

Developmental Information:

Psychomotor (physical)

At this age, kids are in the fundamental movement stage of life. Locomotive exercises, such as running and jumping are possible, as are stabilization exercises, such as hopping on one foot, balancing on tip toes, and stopping. Players will likely display high energy levels, but only for short periods of time – this means that activities shouldn’t last for more than 30-45 seconds, as they will give full effort and then stop. Water breaks every few minutes (e.g. 5 minutes between breaks) at this age are a must. Always allow players to get a drink of water if they ask. Keep water breaks short; for example, 60 seconds. You can also do a countdown to make sure the players are hustling to get back for the next activity.

Cognitive (learning)

Abstract concepts like “space,” “offside,” “pass and move,” etc., are completely foreign to these kids! They are in Piaget’s “preoperational” stage of cognitive development, which means that they explore and understand the world through direct sensory and motor contact. They will focus on themselves and on concrete objects; for example, I often hear, “that’s my ball.” At this age, players have no concern for team concepts, they will best learn experientially (by doing) and they need constant positive reinforcement and praise. Again, they have very short attention spans. If you talk for longer than 30 seconds, they lose focus. In fact, if you have to take longer than 30 seconds to explain something to them, what you are saying is likely too complex for them to recall and implement (working memory at this age is still at its infancy stage, too). As the coach, you should make your instructions as clear and concise as possible. A good rule of thumb is that for every activity you do, every player should have a ball and has the opportunity to be successful (see section on model activities for some examples).

Psychosocial (emotional)

At this age, kids are “ME” oriented. This means that they have difficulty understanding team concepts, they likely do not want to share their ball, and will want lots of attention from the coach (“Am I doing it right, coach?”, “Look at me, coach!”, “Watch this!”, and so on). Again, give as much positive reinforcement as possible. If they are struggling with something, help them out by modifying the activity for them and/or by going over and modeling what to do. Keep the kids moving and having fun! If they really enjoy a game; for example, “freeze tag,” allow every player the opportunity to be the “tagger.” This means that the activity will likely take longer (as you will need to give them a water break during the activity), but each player will get his/her “turn.” They may not understand complex concepts like “justice” or “equity,” but they know when the kid next to them got to do something they didn’t!

Age-appropriate technical aspects to focus on during the course of the season:

Coordination; for example, running without falling over, moving feet and arms together (marching in place), “toe taps” and “insides” with the ball. Lots of repetition and fun games are key here (e.g. freeze tag is always a favorite).

Balance; for example, standing on one leg, hopping. Competence comes with repetition and progress is not necessarily linear!

Dribbling technique; for example, utilizing both feet and as many different surfaces of the foot as possible (toe, laces, instep, side foot, outside of foot, sole, heel). Also, focus on players’ ability to keep the ball as close as possible without losing control of it and when it is appropriate to take big (heavy) touches versus little (soft) touches.

Ball mastery; for example, being able to manipulate the ball with all of the various surfaces mentioned above. Ball manipulation is fundamental, as it is the foundation for everything in soccer! The more comfortable they get in being able to manipulate the ball, the more confident they will get to do other things.

Stopping and turning; for example, utilize both feet and their various surfaces to stop the ball and move in a different direction with it.

With all of the research that is coming out on concussions, do not spend time on headers (heading the ball) and do not berate a child at this age for not heading a ball during practice or a game.

Age-appropriate tactical aspects to focus on during the course of the season:

Scoring in the correct goal!

Do not worry about tactical concepts at this age level.

You should not be expecting your players to understand and execute “team concepts,” and/or things that involve anything more complex than the player and the ball. Introducing more variables, such as passing to teammates, combining with teammates, etc. will result in breakdown (and a very frustrated coach!).

~James