Leaders Listen - Steve Barkley

Leaders Listen

I listened to an interview with Daniel Goldman on NAESP Radio, Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: What Principals Need to Be Emotionally Equipped. While Goldman discussed the importance of Emotional Intelligence in a principal’s role he described the need to:

Tune into the person you are with…. Really listening… identifying what is really on the mind of the person talking to you”

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Vivian Giang writing, Listen Up: The One Skill You Need to Be a Better Leader,  stated that listening is one of the toughest skills to master and offered five ways you to be a great listener at work.

#1 Don’t interrupt“Turn off the voice in your head that constantly makes assumptions, judges the speaker and contemplates what you will say next. Don’t finish the other person’s sentences or interrupt their train of thought,”

#2 Listen for feelings-“People do not always express their feelings or concerns directly, especially to their bosses. Pay attention to words that express feelings or needs and to nonverbal behaviors that may reflect how someone feels,” 

 #3 Repeat what you heard back to the person“Paraphrasing helps you check for accuracy and understanding. Clarify any emotion you think you saw the person express in their verbal expressions or body language.”

#4 Acknowledge what was said– Do not criticize what was said, but be genuinely honest about your opinions. “This is how you build a relationship.”

#5 Look for nonverbal clues– “Acknowledge anything you have noticed and check for accuracy.”


In Quality Teaching in a Culture of Coaching, I describe the verbal skill of a confirmatory paraphrase that coaches can use in conferencing with teachers to improve and highlight their listening.

“The confirmatory paraphrase is a statement that summarizes what the other person said: it indicates that the coach is listening, thus creating alignment and trust between both parties, and it also allows the coach to begin using the same language as the coachee.

While listening, identify a fact, attitude, feeling, intention or commitment you are hearing expressed.  Then state what you interpreted was said.

Teacher: “When Sarah came in late, I got really upset.”

Coach: “You became angry.” (Feeling)

Coach: “She is often late” (Fact)

Coach: “You believe getting upset was not helpful.” (Attitude)

Coach: “Next time you want to respond differently” (Intent)

Coach:” You really want Sarah to become successful.” (Commitment)


When using a confirmatory paraphrase I am expecting a “yes” response that tells me the message I think I am hearing is what the other person is communicating. Sometimes my interpretation is wrong and the person corrects me, building understanding.

Teacher: Many students need more practice than the current pacing guide suggests.

Coach: You believe the amount of content is too much. (attitude)

Teacher: No, I think I just need more flexibility in deciding when my students are ready to take district summative assessments.

Coach: So adjusting the timing of assessments could increase your students’ success. (attitude)

Teacher: Yes, I think so.

It is important when paraphrasing to avoid parroting what the other person said.

Teacher: There is a very wide difference in my students’ reading levels.

Coach Parroting:  There is a wide difference in your students’ reading levels.

Coach Paraphrasing: You see working with all those different levels an important issue.

Consciously practicing paraphrasing can increase your leadership listening and communicate your support for your staff.

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