When starting a new project or receiving feedback, your ability to clearly understand and process information is critical. As a Learning and Development (L&D) consultant, having the ability to effectively communicate your point is one of the most important soft skills you must have. A key aspect of being a good communicator is your ability to utilize active listening skills.
In fact, your ability to understand what is being shared by project stakeholders could significantly impact your ability to deliver quality work.
Misunderstanding an unspoken or poorly communicated message at any stage throughout a project could result in dissatisfied clients. Even though interacting with individuals who struggle to communicate effectively can be frustrating, actively listening and comprehending their intent can eliminate a lot of additional frustration in the long run.
The ability to read between the lines and listen with more than your ears is an invaluable skill to master.
What is Active Listening?
In a recent article posted on Indeed, active listening was defined as “the ability to focus completely on a speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information and respond thoughtfully.”
In other words, active listening skills can help you focus entirely on the person speaking, discern the true intent of their words, and respond thoughtfully. As a combination of body language and words, the use of active listening skills can:
- Help someone feel more comfortable and relaxed when they are speaking to you.
- Make it easier to understand the point being communicated to you
Let’s do a quick active listening activity. Close your eyes and silently listen… What do you hear?
I hear a clock ticking in my office, my wife in the other room on a conference call, and a train just passed by outside. Usually, this is just white noise happening in the background as I work.
However, when I stop and focus on listening to the sounds around me, I quickly realize there is much more happening. These extraneous sounds give depth and context to my surroundings.
Although this is not exactly the type of listening you will do while meeting with subject matter experts (SMEs) on your next project, it is the essence of what active listening really is.
Above all else, actively listening requires you to be fully present and engaged when communicating with someone. Unfortunately, closing your eyes in the middle of your next conversation might send the wrong message.
Nonetheless, there are other techniques you can use to focus your attention and keep yourself fully engaged. By focusing your attention on the person speaking and eliminating distractions, you can pick up on things that words alone may not tell you.
Regardless of how the message is delivered, active listening can make a big difference in how successful you are as an L&D practitioner. Being a good communicator is a lifelong skill that should be practiced daily.
In the end, concentrating on the actual words spoken, asking the right questions, and rephrasing or repeating what was said to gain clarity are best practices for mastering active listening.
Ensuring Project Success with Active Listening Skills
The kickoff meeting is a critical first step in any project because your stakeholders give you the information necessary to align the project with their expectations. Clearly understanding what they are saying goes a long way in making your project easier to complete. Missing information or not understanding your role could be disastrous.
The initial conversation about a project may be the only chance you have to interact with decision-makers. It is vital to utilize good active listening skills to understand a stakeholder’s vision, perceived challenges, and desired outcomes.
During this meeting, there may be times when a person’s body language does not match the message they are sending. If you feel like you are getting two different messages, stop the conversation and ask for clarification.
If all you are doing is passively listening, you may miss this opportunity to gain context and supporting details for the project. Stay fully engaged and practice active listening to make the most out of your next kickoff meeting.
Deciphering Feedback by Listening Between the Lines
Another interaction where you want to practice active listening skills is during feedback sessions.
After submitting a deliverable for review, you might have the chance to get feedback directly from project owners. Review meetings are when stakeholders offer comments and feedback to improve the final product.
Sometimes, due to uncomfortable experiences in the past or a natural aversion to conflict, a client or stakeholder might be hesitant to deliver negative feedback. Although this information is important, you may need to read between the lines and decipher what they are trying to tell you.
Whenever someone chooses to share feedback with you, put them at ease and encourage them to freely share as much as they are willing. Nodding your head to affirm the other person, or providing verbal encouragement, even after negative comments, will keep the information flowing.
Taking notes for future reference is another way to show you are listening and that the shared information is valued.
By practicing active listening skills, you show visual interest and help the other person feel more comfortable sharing. The more honest the feedback you can get, the better.
Employing active listening is a choice. It is a skill that allows you to decipher hidden messages and more thoroughly understand what your project owners, SMEs, and clients really want and need.
As an instructional designer, knowing the right questions to ask can improve clarity. However, active listening skills are equally important when it comes to gathering information from stakeholders.
Even though it is a fundamental component of interpersonal communication, active listening is still your choice. Being present and focusing on what the other person has to say is a conscious decision you need to make any time you are communicating.
Despite its importance, no one is perfect, and there may be times you get distracted or lose focus. When that happens:
- Refocus your attention and listen to understand
- Take notes and use summaries or reflective statements
- Consider body language and the topic of the message
As an L&D professional, it is crucial to develop strong soft skills like the ability to stay focused and actively listen. More often than not, these skills could be the difference between being successful and missing the mark on your next learning project.
While you might be thinking it should be a given to use active listening skills in every conversation, the truth is, it is a lot easier said than done.
Do you currently practice active listening? Is it a skill you are working to improve? Let us know! We would love to hear more about your experience. Share your thoughts with me!
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