Many brilliant thinkers have offered good advice about how to improve your listening skills. As they have pointed out, you will absorb more information if you break the habit of formulating an answer when another person is speaking (a pattern called interruptive thinking). They have also noted that you will also hear better if you eliminate interruptions and distractions.
Those steps produce dramatic improvements in listening, and I recommend them. Yet in my years in business (including time I have spent leading companies), I have noticed that one additional habit has paid even bigger returns in increasing my ability as a listener . . .
I actively listen for what people are saying that is right, not wrong
I call this approach “looking for kernels of wisdom,” and it has improved the way I listen and the way I lead. When I focus on trying to hear what is right in what another person is saying, I learn more, discover promising and even brilliant ideas, and focus on the right issues instead of my preconceptions about what problems might be. Those returns are significant.
I have applied that kind of thinking and found that it achieves remarkably good results in situations like these.
Invite Honest, Direct Comments from New Employees during Training
It really pays to take a little time when training new employees to ask questions and listen. New hires will tell you things that your tenured employees might not. They bring valuable insights from the outside world. Plus, they are so fresh that they will often provide more useful information than they will later during performance reviews and even brainstorming sessions. If you ask questions like these and really listen to the answers, you will learn a lot:
· “What would your job look like if you had the leeway to design your new job from the ground up?”
· “Before you started working here, what did you think about our company and what we do? How did you compare us to other companies?”
· “What do you think customers will be looking for when they contact you?”
· “What do you think the most challenging part of your job will be, and how do you think it could be made easier?”
· “What kind of technological tools do you think you’ll need to get the job done?” (Younger, tech-savvy hires will often open your eyes to new technologies that you might need.)
Invite Current Employees to Help Design Upcoming Training
They usually see problems and opportunities for job improvement that their managers and company leaders might not see. And even if you hire the best outside training development company in the world – one with a proven track record of providing just the kind of training you need – you will achieve dramatically better results if those consultants invest ample time listening to the people they will train. The difference can be summed up in the statement, “We can either teach them what we think they need to learn, or teach them what they really do.”
You and/or your consultants can ask questions like these:
· “When you go home at the end of the day and talk about the biggest frustrations you had at work, what are they?”
· “What is the biggest single issue that is keeping you from being more productive?”
· “What is the biggest day-to-day problem that you cannot solve without calling your manager?”
· “Where does your time go in a typical workday?” (Asking trainees to keep time logs for a few days supports that question.)
· “What single piece of technology that you use needs to be improved the most? Why?”
Listen to Employees During Training
You can ask and listen for kernels of wisdom while training is taking place, no matter who your trainees are. You can ask questions like these:
· “Is this training teaching you the skills and addressing the issues that you need it to?”
· “Do you think the things you learned today are doable and practical?”
· “What else should we be talking about?”
· “Does the training you had today make you feel energized and eager to apply the concepts you learned, or not?”
Many problems and issues with training can be addressed and corrected while training is taking place. Why wait until after the training concludes and then find out that key concepts were overlooked? If you listen openly, not defensively, to what trainees say while training is in progress, you can hit more of your training targets and improve your results.
Don’t Stop Listening when Training Is Over
Of course, you will be measuring many factors in the days, weeks and months after training ends. You’ll be studying whether sales revenues have increased, whether your customer service representatives are resolving more customer issues on the first call, and other appropriate factors. But continuing to dig for “kernels of wisdom” when training is over can help you achieve significant improvements in all your future training activities. Some questions to ask can include:
· “When we offer the same training program in the future, what do you think we should change?”
· “How did the training program change the way you are doing your job?”
· “Can you point to any significant improvements that resulted from training?”
· “Which skills that you learned in training are you using? Why?”
· “Do you remember any concepts or techniques that you learned in training that you decided not to use? Why?”
· “Looking back, what opinions do you have about the trainer or trainers you had?”
· “How effectively were you able to access and use mobile or remote training that was part of the program?”
In Summary . . .
With a commitment to listening, training becomes an interactive process in which your company and your employees learn from each other and grow. Remember that after doing all that listening, certain business processes may need to change. The implementation of new and improved processes goes hand in hand with listening.
But it all starts with staying alert for the good and useful things people say. There is nothing mysterious about it. I encourage you to start today.