Listen to Your Trainer

OK, granted, I am a trainer by profession, and when I see something like Seth Godin’s piece about listening better, I want to scream “Amen!”. Let’s take a sample:

The hardest step in better listening is the first one: do it on purpose. Make the effort to actually be good at it.

Don’t worry so much about taking notes. Notes can be summarized in a memo (or a book) later.

Pay back the person who’s speaking with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm shown by the expression on your face, in your posture, in your questions.

The thing is, speakers are generally only as good as the feedback we get from our audience. When I am training, whether it be onsite or online, I’m making subtle adjustments all the time based on what I see and hear from my students. When I see that they are actively listening, and understanding a specific point, I know that I’m safe to move on to the next one. If I don’t see that, I don’t know that it’s safe to continue on, and I’m very likely to go back over a point to make sure you get it. That’s my job, to do the best I can to make sure you walk out of the class with an understanding on how the tool works, and what you might do with it. I know that is being accomplished when you, as a student, start to form your own ideas and start to take the things I’m teaching you and apply them to your own work. If you simply sit there, looking down at your iPhone, staring out into space, I have no idea if the training is accomplishing what it’s supposed to.

There’s nothing worse than having a class full of people who do not interact at all, do not appear to necessarily be listening, and then get feedback that the class was too slow-paced and repetitive. The truth is, it probably was, but only because the speaker didn’t get any indication from the audience that it was safe to move at a faster pace. So, you didn’t get the best that a trainer could do, you could the trainer responding to your lack of listening. Believe it or not, you do have some responsibility here. As Seth says later:

Good listeners get what they deserve–better speakers.

That’s because good listeners give better feedback, verbal and non-verbal, that a good speaker can adjust to. Good listeners make it clear that they are thinking about what is being taught, and starting to apply it, and take advantage of the opportunity to discuss those applications with a trainer. They get a better classroom experience, by far, than the students who sit and count the minutes until class is over. Good listeners understand that the classroom is an opportunity for them to learn something new, and take advantage of it. They challenge the trainer to up their game, to adjust the curriculum to match the questions being asked and ideas being discussed. Bad listeners get the same stuff, taught the same way, because there’s nothing to adjust to, the focus has to be driven by the trainer instead of the student. Even the best trainer in the world is not going to always drive the class to match your focus if they are left to simply guess what the focus should be. It’s up to you, students, to make sure you get what you need. If you walk away from a class without some key bit of information, and you don’t speak up or give any indication that you need it, how can you blame the trainer for that? Sure, we do our best to pass on as much information as we can, and prioritize it as best as we can, but that trainer up there can’t read your mind. If you don’t actively participate, you share some of the blame for not getting the speaker you wanted.

As Peter Sims said in another article I saw today, Going From Suck to Non-Suck as a Public Speaker:

It’s an experience for us all, not a lecture.

Experiences will always be better than lectures, especially in a training environment. If you aren’t an active part of it, then the experience will be driven by other people and their interests. Is that going to be the best training for you?

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