Obviously, once employees have been trained in a skill, or task, or procedure, the trainer wants to assess how well they’ve understood and internalized what they were supposed to learn.
And there are a number of ways of doing this. You might test them, or watch them deploy what they’ve learned in a real situation. But often you can learn a lot about their degree of comprehension, and their ability to put the training into practice, just by listening.
That is, if you know how to listen the right way.
The four Rs of listening
Clinical psychiatrist Dr. Mark Goulston, author of the book “Just Listen,” lists these four ways that people — including trainers — listen, from the least to the most effective:
1. Removed listening. This occurs when you try to listen to the other person while engaged in a second activity, like writing a note or reading an e-mail. Clearly not the way to assess what somebody has learned.
2. Reactive listening. With this type of listening, you frequently interrupt the other person to respond to what he/she has just said, or get clarification. You may get some idea of the trainee’s level of understanding this way, but it’s likely to be fragmentary and not very useful. Also, you’ll tire the other person out and discourage them from talking to you at all.
3. Responsible listening. This occurs when you hear your interlocutor out and then respond to the words you heard. Better, but still not optimum for assessing a complex learning process.
4. Receptive listening. This type of listening, the deepest and most effective, happens when you hear the other person out and then respond both to what they said — and what they didn’t say. Listen to your trainees this way and you’ll have a good fix both on what they learned and what you need to do next to help them learn more and/or retain what they’ve learned.
So how exactly might receptive listening play out between a trainer and a trainee?
Suppose you’ve just completed a training session for new managers where you emphasized the concept that the manager is the “face of the organization” to his or her direct reports. Afterward, you’re talking to one of the trainees, and she says, “If I understood right, I have a big responsibility to communicate down the corporate ladder.”
If you were practicing responsible listening, you might simply say, “Yes, that’s correct.”
But since you are a step higher on the listening scale, you deploy receptive listening, and you pick up what the person didn’t say: i.e., that representing her team’s interests to the managers above her is only a secondary consideration.
A fuller picture
Your answer in this case is very different, and it helps the new manager grasp exactly what you were trying to say during the training:
“Yes, but you really need to be a two-way communicator. While you’re the face of the organization for your subordinates, you also need to be the face of your subordinates with the organization. This might mean asking for resources that they need, or pointing out where they’ve exceeded expectations, or going to bat for them if they make an honest mistake.”
See how that works? Try it yourself next time you’re talking to employees about a recent training session or learning event.
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