One of the groups that I belong to on LinkedIn recently had a very thought provoking question “What is the single most important skill for a facilitator?” It was one of the most active discussions I’ve ever seen on LinkedIn and responses varied from “classroom management” to “being present.” This electronic conversation got me thinking that there is not just one skill that sets a great facilitator apart but one of the skills that surfaced often in this discussion is listening. This is skill is AS important when training virtually – maybe even more so.
Many times, virtual facilitators listen only to hear what they want to hear, or they listen long enough to address the question topically, OR they listen while focused on their agenda: getting back to covering the content at hand. When a person has the ability to truly listen (actively listen), they are able to hear what’s being said from the other person’s viewpoint and leave their own agenda on hold long enough to understand the other person. And THAT is precisely why great listening is one of the single most important skills for a top notch live or virtual facilitator. These four tips will help facilitators become better active listeners, but be forewarned: while this sounds simple, it requires a great deal of practice and self-awareness.
1) Active listening starts with listening with the intent to understand. It couldn’t be more basic, but it is really difficult. As soon as you, as facilitator acknowledge that someone has a question, you need to be able to shift from ‘presentation mode’ and move into listening mode. It really starts with intention and awareness.
2) Focus completely on listening. This means no multi-tasking. The word active means that I am so engaged in listening to another that I really can’t be crafting my response to their question or have my attention anywhere else. It means that I’m all ears.
3) Ask questions to understand. As I’m listening, when I hear something that could be interpreted multiple ways, or when I hear something that isn’t clear to me, I inquire to be sure that I’m really understanding their question/comment. If I’m not asking questions I run the risk of making assumptions that may not tie back to what the participant was asking. It means I may ask a deeper question before I flip to my response. While facilitating, these questions may mean looking to see how this question will apply to others in the group.
4) Summarize or reflect back what your understand to be at the heart of the question/comment. This tip, above all sets a great listener apart from others. Before you dive in with a response, summarize and be certain that you are clear on what they are asking or on what their comment addresses. This skill lets the speaker know that they were heard.
The beauty of the art of active listening is that it not only serves the individual as a facilitator, it serves them as a people manager, an employee, a spouse, a friend and a parent.
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