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Training: Don’t Ignore the People Side of the Equation

Historically, we trainers have been drawn into our profession because we are people persons. We care about helping others get better at their jobs and believe our concern translates into benefits for our businesses. We communicate and listen better than most. But sometimes even we lose track of how important people are when we feel pressured to get something done.

Sometimes in sessions, I use an instrument designed to give participants feedback on their listening attitudes. The instrument measures sensitivity in two areas: task listening, which focuses on the information needed to get a job done, and people listening, which focuses more on the individuals involved – their needs and feelings.

The ideal score is represented by a perfect balance between the two and, if there was going to be an imbalance, I would have predicted that the group would weigh heaviest on the people-listening scale. However, the first time I used this tool, the data didn’t support that assumption. No one was balanced. Only one person out of 75 was imbalanced on the people side, and nearly everyone was headed off the high end of the scale on the task side. How could we possibly believe ourselves to be so people oriented, yet have such a low people-listening score?

Much of what we do is centered on preparing to deliver something to or for people. We face time pressures – too much to do, too little time to do it. The task has to be done. When it’s complete, it can be seen, measured, described, and evaluated. We’ve got to show results; people have to know more than they knew before (Cognitive Domain), or be able to do more than they could do before (Psychomotor), or feel differently than they felt before (Affective Domain). Under those circumstances, it’s easy to understand why our people skills may not be as keen in preparing training as they are when we are in the classroom. It’s not a justification, however.

The success of training depends not only on you and me and the people in our courses, but on the people who must support training back on the job, or provide the funds and services needed to get the training delivered. As good as are with students in the classroom, we still ought to remind ourselves constantly that everyone we’re involved with is important and worth listening to. It’s something to think about the next time we hear ourselves grumbling at a secretary who hasn’t mailed our course confirmation letters, or find ourselves being insensitive to the printer who is an hour behind schedule producing our handouts. We can greatly influence people by the way we listen.

Here are some things to practice when listening:

  • Eliminate distractions – close the door, eliminate the phone, close the book, put away the papers, etc.
  • Make eye contact with the speaker.
  • Keep conversation with the speaker focused.
  • Paraphrase what the speaker says to make sure you understand.
  • Ask clarifying questions. For example, “You mean…is that right?” or “Let me make sure I understand; what you’re saying is…?’