Being able to listen is a skill that is often not taught explicitly in schools, but is essential in order to be successful as a student. Students have many things vying for their attention, so it's important that they know how to quiet the distractions in order to focus. Sitting listening to other people talking for a long period of time can make it quite easy for a student's minds to wander, so as a trainer, it's your job to try and keep your students as focussed as possible.
Getting distracted during training, and not concentrating on what is being discussed, isn't ideal for either the students and the trainer. As a student, not listening can mean missing important information, which will affect what they take away from the course, and also may prevent them from passing any course assessments they may have to sit. As a trainer, there is nothing worse than knowing your students aren't paying attention, and it can be quite demoralising.
If you spend a little time in each training session setting your expectations for listening to your students, it can help make sure that everyone is getting the most from your training as possible.
Set the Tone
At the beginning of a course, or at the start of a group discussion, it is recommended that you outline good listening behaviour. This may seem an unnecessary thing to do with a group of adults, but it’s better not to assume! Some adults may not have been in a training or education type scenario in quite some time, and may not be used to talking and listening in a more structured environment, so there's nothing wrong with a quick reminder of how you expect things to run. A quick discussion of listening expectations will set the tone from the beginning. Make sure to also get feedback from your students on how they appreciate being heard and what they consider to be acceptable, as every class may be different, so it may be a good idea to adapt how you work with each class.
Another aspect of setting the stage for good listening is to be interesting and engage your students. Beginning the class with an anecdote or story can help break the ice, so don’t be afraid to joke and generate some laughs. If you are engaging and interesting, then your students are more likely to listen more readily. As an added bonus, these techniques will help make your training more memorable, which should help your students when it comes to assessments.
Teach Listening Skills
It may also be necessary to explicitly teach some strategies for effective listening. A clever acronym for such skills is the HEAR strategy. This is a great strategy to teach your students, but it's also important that you implement it yourself. There's no point in having a class full of excellent listeners if you're not listening yourself. This also means everyone in the classroom environment is acting the same way, which should help keep things consistent.
- Halt: The first step in being a good listener is to quiet the inner dialogue. Ignore the distractions happening internally in order to listen to what others are saying. It may seem silly, but actively “shut down” or put aside distracting thoughts.
- Engage: Focus on the speaker. Instead of checking your phone or staring off into space, make eye contact, nod your head, and show the speaker that you are tracking with them. It’s appropriate to ask questions, but be careful to not derail the conversation by asking ones that are off topic, or interrupt the speaker.
- Anticipate: Look forward to what the person has to say, but don’t jump to conclusions. Hear them out in entirety and be sure not to confuse the actual message with what you think they will say.
- Replay: Actively think about what the speaker is saying. Analyse and paraphrase in your mind the information that has been shared. This is an especially important skill for students, as they need to absorb and remember content in order to be successful.
As an instructor, use listening skills to model appropriate behaviour for your students. If you must, jump in and moderate if students interrupt or need reminders to pay attention.
Be a Model
Once you have established norms for the class, be sure to model them yourself. Regardless of what expectations are set, if you are not following them your students won’t either. Be sure to respect your students and model good listening in the following ways.
Make eye contact with your students while they are speaking. Don’t cross your arms across your chest which is a defensive stance. Nodding occasionally can show that you are listening, while smiling will show support or encouragement.
Nothing is quite as frustrating as being interrupted. You don’t want your students to interrupt you, so show them the same courtesy. Wait until students are finished speaking before commenting, and make sure you prevent other students from interrupting too. Nothing can knock a student's confidence like being interrupted by their trainer, so it's a good idea to let everyone have their chance to speak, as long as it's at appropriate parts in the training.
Don’t jump to conclusions
It is tempting to predict what the speaker is saying instead of actually listening, but don’t do it. Listen without making assumptions so you don’t miss anything that is being said. This way if one of your students raises a point you hadn't considered, you will be able to participate in the discussion, and give an informed answer, instead of missing the point they were actually talking about.
Make the Connection to Comprehension
Being a good listener is one thing, but actually comprehending is another. Listening must lead to understanding in order for learning to take place. Encourage your students to use other strategies such as taking notes, rephrasing, participating in group discussions afterwards, and asking clarifying questions while they listen. This will help them absorb and understand what they are hearing. It is your job to help students make necessary connections so you’ll need to listen to them in order to gauge their level of understanding.
If you spend some time teaching effective listening skills at the beginning of a course, you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes! Your students will know what you expect of them, will see you modelling appropriate listening, and will be empowered to focus more while others are speaking. If you follow these simple tips it should make sure that your students get as much from your training sessions as possible, which is the most important thing!