Are you a good trainer?

November 29, 2014

Let me share a recent experience. I had invited a trainer for a session. The session was for one and half hours. The trainer spoke very well, invited questions and answered them well. However, an hour into the session, she was only on her second slide. When reminded of the time, she had to rush through the remaining 30-plus slides to be able to conclude in time. The end result: the session’s objective was not achieved though participants appreciated the knowledge of the trainer. The trainer felt she could have done better with more time.

I am sure most of us have come across such situations. Each training programme is a great learning experience. I have carefully observed people who are excellent trainers and have tried to learn from them. I find that the success of a training session depends upon three things:

A. Clarity of session’s objective: the destination one wants to reach at the end of the given time;

B. Time management: how does one space out the session. A session plan broadly has three sections — an introduction; the middle portion in which the core message/learning is shared; and the conclusion or recapitulation of key lessons; and

C. Methodology: This is the most important part. How do you engage the participants; how do you keep their interest alive; and how do you bring out the hidden knowledge of the participants. The key is to remember that you are not a lecturer, you are a facilitator.

To sum up, I would say that a trainer should be like a navigator who steers the session towards its destination — the session’s objective. Like a good navigator, he/she should also be able to keep the time and manage the diversions, which may come in form of questions from the participants. Questions should be welcome but only those which are relevant to the session’s objective.

When a phone call is better than an email

January 27, 2013

A colleague in my team returned from maternity leave a few weeks back. She requested permission to do teleworking for some time to allow her to take care of her infant. Fortunately, the office has a policy on teleworking. I was asked if it was fine with me as her direct supervisor. I agreed without any hesitation. When the matter came up for a discussion and I was asked if the work would not suffer in such an arrangement. My answer was short, “even those who sit in the office next to me, communicate more through emails. She will do the same from home.” It was agreed and the arrangement worked perfectly well. We even extended the teleworking arrangement for some more time.

I often wonder if emails should remain the main channel of communication by colleagues working in the same office. I have seen several situations where one email leads to a chain of communication, very often undesirable. Colleagues ask clarifications, write long mails to emphasize upon their point of view or seek clarifications. Some write simply to show that they also exist and work in the same office. It is often totally inefficient and a waste of time for all. It is also not good for inter-personal relationships. In most cases, going across to a colleague to have a face to face talk or a phone call would be more useful. It will take less time and will be much more productive.

One of the basic lessons in communication is to use the right medium for communication. We have just entered into a new year and this is my first post of 2013. It is time to try some new things. You may perhaps call it a new year resolution still, if you like. Talk to your colleague(s) before writing an email or replying to one. Better to go across and see him/her, if possible. It will help. It will enhance efficiency and will also improve relationships at work.

Listen to deliver better results at work

May 30, 2012

I happen to know a very senior journalist for a long time now. I noticed him on several social gatherings and one thing stayed with me. He rarely spoke about the columns he wrote unless people asked a specific question. He spent more time asking people about their life, their work and experiences. I observed some more successful journalists and found this to be a common quality. They listen more than they speak. Actually it is the demand of their profession. A journalist has to listen to all kinds of people, understand different versions and perspectives in order to file a good report. They need to get their facts right, whether they agree with the speaker or not and whether they like the speakers or not. They listen with the purpose of understanding and look for the information that is important and useful.  This is active listening. A jurist also has to listen carefully to both sides in order to get the facts rights and deliver a fair judgment. There may be more professions in which the performance of people is directly linked to their ability to listen actively.

Active listening is the most important listening skill. It can be developed with practice and involves the following steps:

–         Show that you are genuinely interested in understanding the key  content of the message;

–         Capture the feeling and emotions of speakers;

–          Verify with the speaker that you got the message right. The process of seeking verification is critical as it ensures that the message is understood clearly, and in the right context.

Even if we don’t have to produce a work product like a journalist or a jurist, It might be a good idea to attempt capturing the essence of what we listen and see if we can reproduce it. This could be a way to practice active listening.

Shoes off, feat accomplished!

April 29, 2012

Getting into the shoes of each other is an exercise, which some facilitators do in communication workshops. I saw this for the first time when Dr. Benjamin Lozare of the Johns Hopkins University did it with us in a workshop. I have been doing it since then and find it very effective. It goes like this: get two volunteers to come up and ask them to get into each other’s shoes.  It takes them a while to start. They have known it as a phrase but haven’t really thought about it in practical terms. The exercise provides very useful insights on effective listening.

Some people attempt to get into the other person’s shoes without taking off their own. It does not work and makes the message clear:  take off your own shoes first, if you want to get into someone’s shoes. Often we don’t listen well because we are preoccupied with our own thoughts.

Some people don’t make an attempt as they believe they have a different shoe size and any effort will be in vain. Just like the difference in shoe sizes is a hindrance in allowing people to get into the shoes of each other, difference in age, gender, experience and perceptions between speaker and receiver becomes a barrier in effective communication. This explains the challenges of communication between parents and children, men and women, teacher and student, boss and his employees and many more situations.

What do we do then to be a good listener despite these very practical challenges? Instead of criticizing the speaker, a practical thing would be to remember taking off our shoes and make an attempt to listen. And then, listen for information that is important and useful to us. We may be able to find it invariably. James Nathan Miller summarizes it very well. “There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for. And questions are the breath of life for a conversation.”

Create Mobile switch-off hours

March 25, 2012

A few days back I saw a family of four having dinner at a restaurant. Each of them was on their mobile. The father perhaps spoke to some business client, mother to a friend, daughter constantly wrote SMSs and the son played games.  I wonder why they were there together if each of them had to communicate with someone else.

I can recall another incident. Someone met me as he wanted advice on his career.  We could not talk as his mobile phone rang consistently and interrupted our communication. It is not surprising that we did not find any worthwhile solution. And, it tested my patience to its limits.

I successfully resisted having a mobile phone for long till I was handed over one by the office one day. I keep it but use it rarely. I even forget to take it with me at times. And, it does not affect me adversely in any way.

Smart phones have more to offer and more to keep their owner engaged. Over 200 million people access Facebook through their mobile phone.  Facebook claims to have 845 million users at the end of 2011 globally. Nearly 48% of 18-34 year olds check Facebook when they wake up, with 28% doing so before even getting out of bed. I am all of the benefits of this communication tool but its excessive usage worries me.

We need to be disciplined while using our mobile phones. I like what some one once told me. He said he uses his phone like a television. He switches it on when he wants and switches it off when he is done with it. This is a great advice.

Being preoccupied is one of the reasons for poor listening and mobile phone seems to be doing just that.  The concept of ‘noise’ as a barrier in effective communication emerged through telephonic communication. No one, however, would imagine that the source of this great discovery would one day become a barrier itself.

It will be useful to develop the habit of switching off our mobile phones from time to time. If switching off is not an option for some, they must find another ways to give themselves some time off it. It will help us focus better and make you a good listener. Finally, please do remember to switch off your phone when you are with family and friends. Listen to each other and talk to them.

Train yourself to be a good listener

February 26, 2012

I wish there was a way to assess our listening skills, just like we are assessed on reading, writing and speaking. We do hear shouts of ‘listen carefully’ in our school days but how to listen is hardly taught. Most of us are selective listeners. We are not always attentive to what is being said for a variety of reasons.

How can we train ourselves to be a good listener?

First of all, appreciate that listening is one of the inter-personal skills. By being attentive and listening, we actually demonstrate that we respect others and extend courtesy to others. Being patient is also a part of it. If we are impatient, we don’t allow the other person to speak properly, and then there is hardly a scope for listening. Our inter-personal skills play a big role in making us a good or bad listener.

Second, let’s develop the habit of listening to people whom we don’t necessary like. We can look around in our circle and make a sincere attempt to communicate with those who are not amongst our favorites. One way to do this is to identify a common interest and discuss that with them.

Third, we should make an attempt to diversify our interest and start talking to those who know more than us on a particular subject. They would talk happily. And we will benefit from their knowledge besides practicing our listening skills.

Finally, speak less. Very often we tend to speak too much ourselves, leaving little room for others to express themselves. A well known Greek philosopher Diogenes has said, “We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more speak less.”

Like in any training, small steps help. We may begin by listening carefully the names of people when they introduce themselves to us or are introduced by someone. On several occasions I have faced embarrassment by not paying adequate attention to their names when people are introduced. Another useful step would be to identify one person whom we don’t enjoying talking too. Make a conscious effort to listen and understand. Incidentally, I am also working on these two steps myself and look forward to listening to your experiences.