While watching a popular talk show recently, I noticed the people on the panel were constantly talking over one another. They were all trying to get their point across, and their obvious need was to be heard and to be right. It was clear that no one was listening which, of course, makes the show brand so popular. The brand of constant chatter appears to be a trend throughout many areas in our society, making listening a lost art.
As trainers, we are keenly aware of how important the skill of active listening is when conducting a training session. However, it is one thing to know this on an intellectual level; the challenge is to actually practice it. Often, we think ahead on how to respond, particularly when hearing ideas we may not agree with. This habit of thinking ahead often leads to discussions and conversations that are not always productive. By using active listening skills, it’s possible to avoid this practice and remain in the moment.
Active listening is considered a “soft skill” which is sometimes perceived as unimportant or difficult. I think we can all agree that active listening may not be as easy as it seems, which is why it requires constant and consistent practice.
The following are four ways to enhance our practice when engaged in active listening:
Be silent long enough to be able to capture the essence of what has been said and be able to respond with an accurate repetition, in your own words, of the content. Paraphrasing helps you clarify meaning, show understanding, check your perceptions, or encourage the learner to continue speaking.
Ask clarifying questions to show the speaker you are paying attention. This helps avoid confusion and confirms you have heard the points correctly.
Use eye contact and other verbal and non-verbal gestures, such as nodding, as an invitation to the person to continue speaking.
Reflection of Feelings
Reflect the speaker’s feelings or emotions in your own words. This is a powerful gatekeeping technique that shows understanding and empathy.
Practicing these active listening skills requires us to be committed to being completely present in the conversation. It requires closing our mouths, opening our ears, and really paying attention. It requires us to be comfortable with the silence. Trainers love to talk and often have lots to say, but the mark of an advanced instructor is being able to find a balance and incorporate active listening skills throughout the training session.
When you scramble the letters in the word “listen,” you will find the word “silent.” Perhaps this is a subtle message for us all. Find moments to embrace the silence and simply listen. Silent=Listen.
To build on and practice your active listening skills, or for countless new ideas and sources of inspiration to enhance your instructional style and techniques, check out Langevin’s Advanced Instructional Techniques workshop.