In the Business and Oral Communications classes I used to teach at CMU, we’d spend a fair amount of time talking about, practicing, and then refining the too-often-lost art of active listening. Business meetings, interviews, oral presentations — it didn’t matter; if someone talked, you listened. You looked like it, you acted like it, and you (as well as the speaker) reaped the benefits of it.
I thought of those classes, and especially of presentation days in OralComm, when students would be graded on their listening and their feedback as well as their speaking, as I sat in City Council chambers for more than two hours yesterday, listening to speaker after speaker come to the podium and pour out a little piece of themselves and their souls for the benefit of our nine — well, eight; more on that in a moment — councilors, whose collective performance reminded me, in some of the best and worst ways, of some of those classrooms full of students in early Septembers or Januarys, before they’d all been shown and trained and occasionally shamed into doing all that was expected of them.
Watching our councilors watch (or not) and listen (or not) to all those speakers, I couldn’t resist the urge to take a few mental notes, and then to offer them here, for whatever they’re worth. Call it feedback. Call it constructive coaching. Or just call it what it is: a guy with more than a little expertise and experience at this, offering up notes and grades from yesterday’s listening assignment.
[In seating order, from left to right around the table...]
Tonya Payne D+
Arrived late, made faces, couldn’t bother to muster up eye contact for even half the speakers she saw. May as well have had the words “Short Timer” imprinted on her blouse.
Jim Motznik F
Is he even on council any more? That said, I’m hard-pressed to imagine a scenario in which his presence would have improved the proceedings.
Darlene Harris C-
Arrived late and, despite sitting upright and seeming to pay attention to most of the speakers, exuded an aura of cold, often creepy detachment. If empathy has a face, it’s the opposite of hers.
Theresa Smith B+
Got up and walked out once, in what appeared to be an overtly political maneuver, but paid sincere and obvious attention the rest of the time. Good eye contact, reassuring non-verbals, and a sympathetic posture made her the stand-out on the left side of the table.
Patrick Dowd C
Focused and deeply attentive at times; distracted, looking into his lap, seeming restless and distant at others. Got up about halfway through and didn’t come back until the last few minutes. I expected, and the speakers deserved, better.
Rev. Ricky Burgess C+
About the same as Councilman Dowd; his peaks of attentiveness were not quite as high, but his disappearance from the room was not nearly as long.
Bruce Kraus A+
The gold standard, and a shoo-in for the OralComm/TRM Best Listener Award. Through more than thirty speakers, he never wavered: focused, attentive, empathetic; gaze up, body language open; a warm, receptive, quietly dignified presence. Nodded, took notes, always thoroughly engaged. An impressive professional — and human — performance.
Bill Peduto A-
Seemed a bit distracted at times, shuffling papers and messages — and quotations? — back and forth with his (excellent, professional, obviously attentive) staffers, but maintained eye contact with and exuded empathy for all of the speakers. Obviously engaged in who they were, what they were saying, and how they were feeling.
Doug Shields A-
Acquitted himself well with a thankless task and position: sitting on an angle at the end of the table, marshaling the speakers, prodding them for names and addresses, enforcing time and sequence restrictions, all while trying to listen and take notes on what he was hearing. Wasn’t the most engaging presence at the table, but was consistently engaged and attentive and effective throughout.
Average Grade: C+
Average Grade Without Jim Motznik: B
Yep. That sounds about right.