Understanding how Scouts listen should help us figure out how we best communicate with them.
There’s never enough time to get your message across. Even Fidel Castro, famous for giving six-hour speeches, had plenty more to add.
If you’re given 8 minutes, take 8 minutes minus 7 seconds, not 9 minutes. The extra minute is selfish. The extra minute doesn’t actually make that much of a difference in how much you are able to communicate.
In fact, it’s the non-verbal communication we remember, and if you are rushing, apologizing and stepping on the toes of the person after you, that’s what the audience will take away.
I love to talk (surprise!). Not all my Scouts want to listen to me talk. When they reach their limit they stop listening and politely wait until I am done. It’s easy to spot this happening with a little practice; they look at the floor, at the corner of the room, at the sky, they shift their feet, they fidget.
Learning how to communicate with Scouts takes a lot of practice. More listening is almost always better than more talking.
It is easy to go too far and talk too much when we advise or mentor youth leaders. We sometimes feel that we must not only explain what they need to know but why they need to know it, all the different ways of applying that knowledge, and six different stories about how we have done it in the past.
I follow three simple steps:
- Think about what you want to say. A lot of things go unsaid if I take the time to consider whether they are actually relevant or useful. If I decide that what I want to say is, indeed, relevant and useful I try to figure out how to say it in as few words as possible.
- Say what you want to say and stop. Don’t digress, don’t embroider, don’t over explain. Err on the side of brevity.
- Listen. If you haven’t explained fully, if your directions or ideas are confusing, Scouts will ask questions.
If I am trying to explain a complex idea or give a direction I turn it into a question. I walk into the meeting room and look around, it’s utter chaos, I have no idea what’s going on. I find the senior patrol leader and I ask ‘What’s happening now?’. His answer may lead to other questions, a direction, or end the conversation right there.
‘What’s happening now?’ is, hands down, my favorite question. I ask it all the time. A close second is ‘Do you see what is happening right now?’. If I ask either of these questions it puts my youth leadership on alert; something isn’t happening that should be happening, or something is happening that shouldn’t be happening. An experienced youth leader usually responds to this question with action rather than words, they see what I see and go fix the problem.
Even in the most difficult situations I work hard to find a positive context. Can I find encouraging, helpful words? Can I make a correction or course change without interrupting or discouraging Scouts? It’s surprising how well this works when you try.
My Scouts are more patient with me (and I with them) when I stop taking before I think I should.