Archive for December, 2007


Home for the Holidays: Listening to Your College Student

December 29, 2007

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a short strange trip it’s been. A few days after the end of finals at Auburn University, my son came home for the holidays. And now he’s already gone, not back to college, but to visit a college friend in another state … and then off to the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl to watch our Auburn Tigers beat the Clemson Tigers. You see, our home has changed. He went to high school in Alabama, and then our family moved to Georgia in the mid-summer. So he literally knows no one where we now live, other than those he’s related to.

Though our family’s circumstances are likely different from most, I was wishing I knew more about what life would be like for that brief time he’s home. What are parents to do when their freshman comes home from college for the first few times? Here are some things to expect:

  1. Laundry. Lots of laundry. Though he has a free washer and dryer mere steps from his room in college, he still brought home three or four loads. (Some parents may be nice and do it for him, but I thought, “Why make things different than they were in high school? He did his own then, and he can do his own now.”)
  2. An alpha-dog revolt. Whoever the oldest child left at home is probably has assumed the position of the alpha dog, the one in charge of the younger siblings. When your student comes home, the proverbial applecart will be upset. At our house, it took almost a week for the pecking order to be re-established. (How’s that for a bunch of metaphors in one paragraph?!)
  3. Curfews are out the window. And that’s our choice. I chose not to enforce the curfew that he used to have. In college, there’s no such thing as a curfew.
  4. Late sleeping. That was a hard one for me. I forgot how late college students sleep when they have no classes to attend.
  5. A few groans. Even though he made some half-hearted attempts to avoid some family time, he always showed up where and when he was expected to, unless it was before 10:00 a.m.
  6. Little conversation. Or a lot, depending on the moment. It’s never what I plan on. (That’s no different than when he was in high school, at least.)
  7. A new tattoo. Your student will likely have made changes to his or her appearance, even if it’s not as permanent as a tattoo. (At least our son called home to let us know he wanted to get one ahead of time. I’m still not sure if he was asking for permission or simply informing us of his decision.)
  8. An empty wallet. Whose wallet was emptier? Probably his before the visit, and ours after!
  9. Spending time with friends. Most of the time he was home, he was connected – wirelessly – to his college friends via Facebook, text messages, Halo 3 and an occasional cell phone call. If he had friends in our new neighborhood, I’m confident he’d have been visiting with them in person, away from our house.
  10. Listening is different. You’ll now be listening to your student not as though he’s a child, as you probably were before he left, but as the adult he thinks he’s become. And guess what, he is now an adult. Scary thought, no?

Give the Gift of Listening

December 24, 2007

Consider for a moment a variation on an early scene from my favorite movie of all time, the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz:

Aunt Em: Why don’t you find a place where [you will be listened to]!
Dorothy: A place where [I will be listened to]. Do you suppose there is such a place Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain.

What can I give my family and friends for Christmas? This lament is likely to be heard around the globe as people struggle with gift choices for their hard-to-buy-for loved ones. Here’s an idea for you: become someone who is known for listening to your loved ones. And then, really, truly, deeply listen to them. Make this commitment to them in writing. The feeling of being listened to is one that will last long beyond the mayhem of Christmas morning.

Especially for close friends and family members, consider spending some private time with them and interviewing them about their lives. StoryCorps, “an independent, nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening,” suggests questions you can ask to help you get started. (You can use their Question Generator to create a customized list of questions, or simply use their Question List.) Or, you may want to ask several of the questions around the dinner table rather than focusing all the questions toward one person. You’ll be surprised at some of the things you never knew. The more you know, the richer your relationships will be.

And if you want to go one step further, try one of these ideas, too:

At least for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, remember to “whole-face listen” to those you are spending time with. They’ll appreciate it. And you’ll become closer to them in the process.


On Listening & Diversity, Part Deux

December 21, 2007

As you read through the listening proverbs from around the globe, choose one or two quotations that you think are particularly insightful. You may wish to focus on those from your ethnic heritage, if you desire. 

  • No one is as deaf as the man who will not listen. — Jewish Proverb
  • It is easier to make a camel jump a ditch than to make a fool listen to reason. — Kurdish Proverb
  • Keep quiet and people will think  you a philosopher. — Latin Proverb
  • Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf. — Native American Proverb
  • Listening to a liar is like drinking warm water. — Native American Proverb
  • Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand. — Native American Proverb
  • Words must be weighed, not counted. — Polish Proverb
  • Eat what is cooked; listen to what is said. — Russian Proverb
  • God will listen to you whatever cloak you wear. — Spanish Proverb
  • Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence. — Spanish Proverb
  • When one shuts one eye, one does not hear everything. — Swiss Proverb
  • Listen a hundred times; ponder a thousand times; speak once. — Turkish Proverb
  • How many will listen to the truth when you tell them? — Yiddish Proverb
  • Don’t judge a man by the words of his mother, listen to the comments of his neighbors. — Yiddish Proverb
  • The devil comes to us in our hour of darkness, but we do not have to let him in. And we do not have to listen either… — Yiddish Proverb
  • Knock on the sky and listen to the sound. — Zen saying
  • What the poor man says is not listened to. — Zulu Proverb

On Listening & Diversity, Part One

December 20, 2007

As you read through the listening proverbs from around the globe, choose one or two quotations that you think are particularly insightful. You may wish to focus on those from your ethnic heritage, if you desire. 

  • Examine what is said, not him who speaks. — Arabian Proverb
  • A friend is one to whom one may pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away. — Arabian Proverb
  • Who speaks, sows; Who listens, reaps — Argentine Proverb
  • If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words. — Chinese Proverb
  • To be heard, there are times you must be silent. — Chinese Proverb
  • Listen to all, plucking a feather from every passing goose, but, follow no one absolutely. — Chinese Proverb
  • You talked when you should have listened. — Chinese Proverb
  • Listen to what they say of the others and you will know what they say about you. — Cuban Proverb
  • Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world. — Cuban Proverb
  • Advise and counsel him; if he does not listen, let adversity teach him. — Ethiopian Proverb
  • It is a stupid goose that listens to the fox preach. — French Proverb
  • He who would rule must hear and be deaf, see and be blind. — German Proverb
  • The wise man has long ears and a short tongue. — German Proverb
  • The beginning of wisdom is silence.  The second stage is listening. — Hebrew saying
  • Listening to good advice is the way to wealth. — Iranian Proverb
  • Listen to the sound of the river and you will get a trout. — Irish Proverb
  • Dance as if no one were watching; sing as if no one were listening; and live everyday as if it were your last. — Irish Proverb
  • From listening comes wisdom, and from speaking repentance. — Italian Proverb
  • Where there is no antagonist, you cannot quarrel. — Japanese Proverb

Stay tuned for more listening proverbs from around the globe.


Top Topics for 2008

December 18, 2007

For the coming year, I will continue working as an organizational development consultant with several corporations and nonprofit groups in the Southeast. Many of the topics could be shared in a focused lunch & learn format or expanded to a half- or full-day interactive session with my clients. Below, you will find a listing of topics that you’ll read more about in my Listening Matters blog as the year progresses.

Communication Matters

  • Training with Style: Train the Trainer
  • Facilitation with Finesse: Presentations, Meetings & More
  • Avoid Click-Thud Effect: Energize Your PowerPoint Presentations
  • Dynamic Presentations
  • Listening: The Hidden Competency
  • More than Gestures: Nonverbal Communication
  • Customer-Focused Writing
  • E-ffective & E-fficient E-mail Writing

Diversity Matters

  • Diversity in Action
  • Clowning Around with Diversity
  • Listening to Diversity
  • Lucy & Ricky Meet Will & Grace: Intergenerational Differences in the Workplace
  • Beyond Do’s & Taboos: Intercultural Etiquette
  • Cultural Awareness: Our Changing Demographics
  • The Platinum Rule
  • Survive & Thrive as e a Peacock in the Land of Penguins

Leadership Matters

  • Peer Today, Boss Tomorrow: Managing Your Transition into Leadership
  • The Human Side of Change
  • Managing Meetings That Matter
  • Priority Management
  • Beyond Choosing the Right Fork: Mealtime Etiquette
  • Interviewing Skills: From Both Sides of the Table

For Interns or New College Grads

  • Brand U: Making Your Best First Impression in the Workplace
  • Blogs, Facebook & MySpace, Oh My!
  • Career Development: Resume Writing & Interviewing Skills
  • Mealtime Etiquette


Are leaders born? Or can they be “made”?

December 12, 2007

Are leaders born? Or can they be “made”? This is the center of many discussions in “The Dark Side of Leadership,” one of my Capella University courses during my Ph.D. program. I argue that leadership (in general) can be learned.

Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic for nearly three decades, asserts: “Today’s leaders are dynamic, transforming, evolutionary — but they weren’t necessarily born that way. Their training in distinctions allows them to speak passionately and be open to the contributions of others while holding true to a project’s long trajectory. Can leadership be taught? Indeed it can!” (Zander & Zander, 2006).

The traits of a leader are innate; they are the sum and total of the leader’s personality and character. Though the leader may be able to choose which traits are exhibited, the traits continue to exist — and sometimes simmer — under the surface. One can’t dismiss the importance of a leader’s character, especially after learning about what happens when a leader does not possess or exhibit integrity (for example, the leaders of Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and others).

On the other hand, many of a leader’s competencies — such as the ability to delegate effectively or to deliver a motivating speech — can be learned through time and practice. In my mind, you can’t learn integrity; either it is there or it isn’t. And even if it is “there,” the leader makes a choice whether to exhibit the trait depending on the situation he or she is facing.

So what should be done when a leader is not exhibiting the desired traits or competencies in the workplace? Is development possible? According to an article in Leadership Excellence, we should “build strengths using companion competencies and leverage the ‘halo effect’ where a few profound strengths overshadow individual weaknesses to achieve breakthrough performance improvement” (Trinka, 2005).

A leader – for a time – can exhibit the learned competencies and be successful and effective. Depending on the length of tenure for the leader, this may be enough to get by. However, one competency that the leader must develop is the ability to realize when the dark side may be emerging, and then to deal with it head on. Some leaders are able to do this on their own, while others may seek professional help (like fictionally shown in The Thomas Crown Affair or The Sopranos).

In closing, “Nature may be our internal guide (map), but nurture is our explorer that has the final say in what we do (destination)” (Clark, 1997, Is character developed via nature or nurture section, para. 1).


Clark, D. (1997, September 18, 2005). Leadership: Character and traits. Retrieved July 26, 2006, from

Trinka, J. (2005). Great leaders. Leadership Excellence, 22(7), 17.

Zander, B., & Zander, R. S. (2006). Nature versus nurture [Electronic Version]. Fast Company. Retrieved July 26, 2006 from


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Listening Matters by
Barbara B. Nixon, Ph.D. (ABD) is licensed under a
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A Teaching & Learning Philosophy

December 11, 2007

Several years ago, a colleague shared with me this quotation by longshoreman and philosopher Eric Hoffer:

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

This quotation struck a chord with me. Put simply, my overarching goal in teaching is to ensure that our world has more learners than learned. I am fortunate to be in a role in life where I can have an impact on our future world leaders.

What do I expect from my students?

  • Students should be fully read on all of the chapters (or other reading assignments) and to be ready to discuss any part of the readings.
  • Students should raise questions when they are uncertain of the material we are discussing, including questions that I will have no easy (“pat”) answer for.
  • Students should make every effort to gain the most value that they can from the class. They should want to become independent learners.
  • Students should become aware of not only how what happens in the world (current events) impacts them, but also how what they do impacts the world. Campus is not a cocoon.

And what can my students expect from me?

  • Because I am aware that students learn in many different ways, I will not lecture at my students daily from behind a raised podium. Instead, I will provide instruction to them in an interactive manner. In a typical week, students will experience partner discussions, small group discussions, Internet scavenger hunts, and even crossword puzzles, in addition to short (less than 20 minute) lecturettes. “Death by PowerPoint” will not happen in my class.
  • I will provide them with the most current information I have available. I stay current on topics and trends in the industry.
  • I will stay abreast of current technology and apply it in the classroom whenever it adds to the learning experience. (Examples include current software, Vista, podcasts and blogging, to name a few.)
  • I will make every effort to help guide students through the issues that they raise, and we will seek resolution together.
  • I will make every effort I can to make sure that students understand the issues and concepts my courses present.
  • When I have positive feedback to share, I will share it openly in the classroom and call attention to students by name in the process. My goal in this is to enhance or maintain the students’ self-esteem, not to break it down. There are plenty of other places in the world where their self-esteem may be diminished. Constructive criticism will still be provided to students, but not by name in front of a whole class.
  • I expect for us to have fun in class. Laughter and learning go hand in hand in my book. If we are not enjoying ourselves in class, there’s something amiss.
  • And perhaps most importantly, I will listen to my students so that I can learn from them, too.