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Active Listening: Importance, Benefits and Exercises for Better Employee Training

What if there was a skill you could instill in your employees to improve their productivity and customer service and allow them to get the most out of every new training session in the future? 

What if you could learn the same skill and become a more effective trainer? 

That skill is active listening, and anyone who masters it will see exceptional results in their relationships, learn new things, and obtain the results they want.

What Is Active Listening?

Active listening is a soft skill that helps people develop better communication skills. It is a process that you use to obtain information from a person or group.

Active listening includes giving your full attention to the conversation, not interrupting, and taking adequate time to understand the speaker's message.

It is referred to as active listening because it involves taking active steps to ensure understanding. For instance:

  • Reducing or eliminating distractions
  • Moving closer to the speaker
  • Restating the speaker's words in your own words to verify understanding
  • Asking questions to get the speaker to share more details

Of course, there are things that active listeners avoid doing, as well. For example, they don't talk over the speaker. They don't allow themselves to be disrupted or distracted. Active listeners also don't make assumptions about the speaker's positions or views based on previous interactions or preconceived notions. Finally, they avoid formulating a response while the other person is speaking.

Benefits of Active Listening in the Workplace

Here are some of the key benefits you will likely see if your team improves their active listening skills.

Improved Customer Service 

When customer support staff or sales teams engage in active listening, they improve their understanding of the customer. They can listen to feedback effectively, show empathy, and offer relevant situations. As a result, customers go from feeling frustrated to feeling heard and validated.

Elimination of Needless Conflict

All too often, infighting within teams comes from miscommunication. You can avoid this unnecessary conflict when active listening is the norm. People are less likely to be frustrated or feel like they aren't heard. They are also less likely to have emotional reactions because they've misinterpreted due to half-listening.

Improved Comprehension Skills

Managers and team leaders often find it frustrating to train employees to complete complex, multi-step tasks. They frequently have to fix errors and engage in retraining. That is also often the result of poor listening skills.

That can lead to loss of productivity, even expensive errors. But, again, active listening can improve these situations. When employees know how to engage in instruction or on-the-job training fully, they will be better prepared to execute the required tasks without issue.

Better ROI on Training

Whether you send employees offsite for training, use on-site training facilities, or deliver training through an online learning platform, you spend time and money to ensure your workforce knows what they need to be effective. 

Whether that is worthwhile depends on how they master the new skills they learn and how effectively they apply them. If they use active listening steps, your employees can improve these results significantly. That leads to a better return on your training investment.

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Stronger Group Collaboration

Collaboration is an absolute must when solving a complex problem or achieving a challenging goal. Team members must be able to communicate with one another and be understood the first time. That requires very well-developed listening skills. Frustration and confusion over communications issues can truly derail this process.

More Respectful Work Environment

It's very human to want to be heard and have people respond to you in an empathetic way. It's equally human to become angry and to shut down when that doesn't happen. When workers commit to respecting one another by listening to them, they contribute to a better work environment for everyone.

Increased Selling Performance

Have you ever searched for a product on Google, only to have every search result be completely irrelevant? That isn't very pleasant, to say the very least. Now, imagine being a customer who has taken the time to explain your needs to a salesperson, who then offers you a solution or recommendation that is a terrible fit for your situation.

You feel annoyed that they didn't bother to understand your requirements. If you are concerned enough by the experience, you might shop somewhere else. All of this happens, in most cases, because the salesperson didn't actively listen to you. Instead, they likely began thinking about their response and what they wanted to sell to you.

If your sales team knows how to engage customers with active listening techniques, they know they are being heard. They are more likely to feel like buying as a result. When the recommendations they receive are relevant, that's even better.

If your team members can genuinely master active listening, they will have essential skills to become better employees overall.

How to Assess And Measure Listening Skills

Some formal assessments measure someone's ability to learn. Many of these are self-guided. You can also administer these evaluations in a training room. It's also possible to create your listening assessments. These should include clear criteria for rating listening abilities so that everyone is at the same level and has the same reference point.

One way to evaluate listening skills is to choose employees to have conversations with one another. Later ask each person if they observed the other taking active listening steps. You can also follow customer service and productivity data to see measurable improvement in those areas.

7 Ways Trainers Can Use Active Listening to Be More Effective

Of course, corporate trainers should focus on active listening themselves. It is something that they should apply in each training session to get the most out of each trainee and ensure that everyone attending feels welcomed and valued. 

Active listening is something trainers should demand from each participant. Additionally, they should apply active listening techniques while they lead training sessions.

Here are seven active listening strategies to apply in your training sessions.

1. Listen with Intention

Give the person speaking your full, undivided attention. Stay focused on what they are saying. Don't speak, and make it clear that you want the person to speak. Use positive and receptive cues to keep them talking. For example, nod, smile, and make eye contact. That shows interest and will signal the other person to keep expressing themselves. Don't allow other participants, technology, or intrusive thoughts to distract you from listening.

2. Avoid Body Language That Indicates You Are "Checked Out"

While trying to use positive cues and body language, be vigilant about avoiding any non-verbal cues that show you are uninterested, not paying attention, or simply confused. Even if you find the question or comment to be frustrating or long-winded, manage your emotions. 

Your voice, gestures, and facial expressions should show that you want to hear the person's remarks. Open up your posture. Avoid closed body language and moving around too much. That indicates that you aren't focusing on the speaker.

3. Ask Questions to Show Your Interest

Show the speaker that you're interested in what they have to say by asking questions. It would help if you also asked questions to clarify their meaning. For example, can you explain this further or can you give me some more details about this? Avoid centering Yourself by bringing up your own experiences. Instead, respond by validating their own.

4. Use Verbal Encouragers

Encouragers are gestures you use, sounds that you make, words that you repeat while the other person is speaking. Verbal encouragers are words like 'yes' or 'I understand' or 'tell me more.' 

You can also choose a meaningful word or phrase from the speaker's terms and repeat it. Use verbal encouragement to indicate that you are paying attention and encourage the other person to continue speaking to you.

5. Don't Plan Your Response

Listen to what the person has to say before you begin planning your response. Don't plan your response to them while they are talking. You could miss something fundamental; you could even completely misunderstand what they're saying. Focus on listening for understanding instead. That may be the most vital thing you master as you learn about active listening and how to apply it.

6. Don't Interrupt

Avoid interrupting at all costs, even if it is to agree with the speaker. Don't finish their sentences or interject enthusiastic responses. Instead, let them complete their thoughts.

7. Paraphrase at the End

When a trainee has finished delivering a comment or question, don't respond immediately. Instead, state what you believe they are communicating in your own words. Use phrases like, "Let me repeat that back to you" or "So it sounds like you mean." End with a question to get confirmation. Try, "Is that right?" or "Do I have it correct?" That way, if you've misunderstood, you don't leave the speaker feeling frustrated or as if you have put words in their mouth.

These active listening skills will make you a better instructor and trainer. Your participants will be more engaged in your activities, and discussions will be more robust as everyone feels as if they are genuinely being heard.

It's essential that you actively work to develop these skills and use them in the training room. It would help if you also worked on setting the exact expectations for the people you are training. Make it clear that these are the guidelines for your training sessions, and then model the skills.

How Active Listening Improves Training

When instructors and trainees have good listening skills, the training process is improved dramatically. 

Engagement Improves During Training Sessions

When everyone in a training group applies active listening skills, the quality of engagement in the training room will noticeably increase. In addition, once people realize they will be listened to and responded to appropriately, they become more willing to ask questions and provide essential details themselves. 

Trainees Absorb And Recall Information More Readily

Instructing passive listeners can be a frustrating process. They are easily distracted and often only catch a portion of what you attempt to communicate with them. As a result, you may find yourself repeating details and explaining fundamental concepts multiple times. 

It's frustrating for you, but it also slows the learning process. Instead of learning one concept, engaging in discussion, and moving on to the next thing, trainees relearn the same ideas. Then, when they complete the course, it often becomes clear that they recall very little.

Active listening changes all that. As participants learn to treat listening for understanding as their primary "job" during live training sessions, they are more likely to understand their training the first time and recall that information later.

Frustration and Miscommunication Are Avoided

Here's something that most trainers have experienced. Participants are engaged in a discussion about an important topic. One participant responds to another, and it's immediately apparent they weren't truly listening. Perhaps they make a wrong assumption or repeat a point already made.

Of course, that makes the other person irritable. Other team members may be frustrated as well. At that point, the conversation devolves or ends altogether. That's something you could avoid if everyone were engaged as they should have been.

Important Topics May Be Covered with More Depth

Once there's been at least some mastery of active listening, it's easier to get trainees engaged in discussions that allow them to dig into important subjects. As a result, participants don't just learn the basic concepts.

How to Help Trainees Develop Active Listening Skills

Considering all the benefits of active listening in the workplace, including at least one training session on the topic is a great idea. In addition, trainees will benefit from applying the techniques in training sessions and on the job. 

If you choose, you can go to outside sources for this training. There are many video courses, webinars, and interactive online courses. Some professional trainers are happy to provide this coaching live.

You can also design your course. That may be more budget-friendly than other options. Additionally, you can customize it according to the needs of your team. 

Active listening is best taught through an engaged, active listening environment. While it's possible to provide training on the concepts of active listening, trainees need hands-on learning to apply and genuinely understand it. Here are a few activities that can drive things home.

Not Listening Anymore

In this exercise, the group is divided in half. One group leaves the room. The other is encouraged to pick a topic to discuss that is important or interesting to them. The group that has left the room is encouraged to listen for a short time, then stop. They can play with their phones, look at the time, sigh loudly, or do anything else to indicate that they are disengaged.

When the groups get back together, they pair up to discuss the topics chosen by the first group. As the conversations continue, the listeners disengage. It's usually interesting for trainees to notice how quickly the listeners become frustrated and annoyed and stop communicating. That can lead to a good discussion of the impacts of listening on coworkers and customers.

Telephone

That is a twist on the classic game. You still encourage trainees to pass a message from one person to another. However, you also add in distractions such as music and encourage attendees to giggle and engage in side conversations with one another. 

Once the message has gone around, see who remembers it at all. See who reflects it accurately. That is useful in showing how allowing simple, meaningless distractions can negatively impact listening and understanding.

Listening to Sell

In this exercise, one person plays the role of an indecisive customer. Their job is to provide information on what they want for a vacation. However, they are to be somewhat unclear. They will list various details about what they want but not name the specific destination.

The other plays the role of the seller. They are to listen intently and show that they are using the steps of active listening. At the end of the exercise, they must summarize what the buyer is looking for in five sentences or fewer. Then, they can try to sell the customer to a vacation destination they believe will meet their needs.

The good thing about this exercise is that it can be easily adapted. Change the details of this activity to be relevant to your business and the products you offer.

Final Thoughts: Implement Active Listening Easily

The good thing about active listening is that you can build it into your training without significantly changing what you are already doing. Start sessions with a brief active listening exercise. 

Set policies for group learning sessions and meetings that require people to engage with one another and listen. Make listening skills an evaluation criterion for your staff. When you ask for feedback on your training, allow trainees to offer their insights on whether they felt like you listened to them effectively. Then, use that feedback to improve your training programs in the future.

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