People in academia like to talk. A lot. We like to hear ourselves talk. A lot. But sometimes we need to take a step back and listen. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Sometimes, we need to be smart enough to let our evolution take over.
I was stricken with a delightful head cold last week. Due to the amount of nose blowing I was doing, I wasn’t much for conversation. Mostly because it led to coughing and other delightful cold symptoms. I’d like to write a book about the “8236 stages of a cold” that will be due out for publication next year. Nothing like a good cold. And so much hand washing….
Amidst my mouth breathing and sudafed haze, I still kept my schedule. It was just a cold after all. It was a good reason to speak less and listen more. I was reminded of this several times throughout the week.
Chatting with grad students. While it’s our job to advise them, I know I can get mired in the business at hand: making progress. Not feeling 100% helped me sit back and let them drive the bus of their own learning. In between my coughs and nose blowing, students were able to work through their dissertation issues. Because I didn’t have much for a voice, I mostly nodded in agreement and let them keep talking.
Not talking gives other people permission to keep talking. Not talking makes some people super uncomfortable so they keep talking. Not talking and being with someone who fears silence is an excellent tactic in getting all of their secrets out. Just so you know.
Our department also hosted preview days. Potential grad students come in for a series of meetings and interviews spread out over the course of a few days. It’s a great opportunity to meet with potential students, listen to them discuss their future plans, and if our department might be a good fit for that. Along with this comes a lot of listening. Trying to gauge their interest, their maturity level, and their true motive for a graduate degree is a lesson. Paying attention to their body language is equally important.
Sitting back and listening can be a powerful medium. It gives the person you’re with the freedom to converse and it gives you the freedom to listen. No one feels obligated.