Many brilliant thinkers have offered good advice about how to improve your listening skills. For example, 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 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 found that this kind of thinking achieves remarkably good results in situations like these:
Inviting Honest, Direct Comments From New Employees During Training
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 can often provide more useful information than they will later. 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 could design it 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 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.)
Inviting Current Employees to Help Design Training
Employees usually see problems and opportunities for job improvement that their managers and company leaders might not see. Even if you hire the best outside training development company in the world, you will achieve dramatically better results if those consultants invest ample time in listening to the people they will train. It means the difference between teaching employees what you think they need to learn and teaching them what they really do.
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? (Ask trainees to keep time logs for a few days to help answer this question.)
- What single piece of technology that you use needs to be improved the most? Why?
Listening to Employees During Training
Listen for kernels of wisdom while training is taking place, no matter who your trainees are. 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 practical and doable?
- 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?
You can address and correct many problems with training while it’s taking place. Why wait until after the training concludes and then find out that key concepts were overlooked? If you listen openly, not defensively, you can hit more of your training targets and improve your results.
Don’t Stop Listening When Training Is Over
Of course, you will measure many factors in the days, weeks and months after training ends. But continuing to dig for “kernels of wisdom” can help you achieve significant improvements in all your future training activities. Some questions to ask include:
- When we offer this program in the future, what do you think we should change?
- How did the training program change the way you do your job?
- Can you point to any significant improvements that resulted from training?
- Which new skills are you using? Why?
- Do you remember any concepts or techniques that you learned in training that you decided not to use? Why?
- What opinions do you have about the trainer or trainers?
- How effectively were you able to access and use mobile or remote training?
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 all that listening, certain business processes may need to change. Implementing new and improved processes goes hand in hand with listening.
It all starts with staying alert for the good and useful things employees say. There’s nothing mysterious about it. I encourage you to start today.