Active listening is defined as a communication technique that requires the listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Sounds like a critical trainer skill. Yet, we are rarely trained to listen actively. It takes a lot of effort to implement all aspects of active listening, but the benefits are great.
When both parties are engaged in active listening, we all feel we are being listened to and understood. Both are key in effective communication.
Builds Trust and Shows Respect
When we actively listen to our participants, the trust will elicit rapport and openness in our training sessions. Bryant H. McGill, well-known human performance author, is quoted as saying, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”
Concentrating on what is truly being said allows us to fully understand the other person’s point of view. Even if you don’t see eye-to-eye, active listening allows you to appreciate the perspectives of others while also avoiding misconceptions.
Do these benefits match up with your goals as a trainer? As I’m sure they do, here are five active listening strategies you can implement to improve your delivery:
1. Pay attention, listen with intent, and don’t get distracted. Stay quiet and encourage the person to talk. Use non-verbal cues such as nodding, smiling, and maintaining eye contact. These cues will let the person know you are listening. Make a conscious effort to stay focused on the speaker. Don’t allow noises, other participants, or your own thoughts distract you.
2. Avoid sending non-verbal cues that communicate inattentiveness, disinterest, or lack of understanding. In other words, keep your feelings and attitudes in check. Show understanding and acceptance with your tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, posture, and eye contact. Fidgeting and closed body language will give the impression you are not truly engaged.
3. Listen before you plan your response. As Stephen R. Covey stated, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Fully listening before planning your response may be the most critical step towards your success as an active listener. Stay focused on understanding and remembering what the speaker is communicating.
4. Ask questions to clarify and convey interest. When you do reply, reflect on what you heard and ask for clarification by using open-ended, probing, or other relevant questions. For example, ask, “Can you tell me more about what you mean by…?” or “Can you explain why that’s important?” Be empathetic to the speaker and avoid bringing up similar feelings or experiences of your own.
5. Don’t interrupt the speaker. Give the speaker time to communicate his or her ideas and thoughts. Repeat back what the speaker said or paraphrase for clarification, but not until he/she pauses. Also, don’t interrupt and try to finish the speaker’s sentences.
It’s easy to get into the habit of listening passively. Reflect on each of the strategies listed above after each training session to ensure you are listening actively to your participants. Make a conscious effort to listen, understand the complete message of each participant, and make a relevant response.
Active listening has really paid off for me as a trainer and I hope these tips will elevate your success as well! What other tips or techniques do you have in your trainer toolbox to improve your active listening skills?
If you’re interested in more instructional techniques, enroll in Langevin’s 3-day workshop, Instructional Techniques for New Instructors.