One of the most important skills an Instructional Designer can have is to be an effective listener. This involves paying close attention to not only the words spoken by a subject matter expert but the meaning beneath those words.
Before I touch on how to be a more effective listener, I wanted to share a quote from Peter Senge, a pioneer in the field of Learning Organizations and author of The Fifth Discipline.
“To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only to the ‘music,’ but to the essence of the person speaking. You listen not only for what someone knows, but for what he or she is. Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow our mind’s hearing to your ears’ natural speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning.”
How many times have you been in a meeting with a subject matter expert and found yourself distracted, half-listening, or not listening at all? After posing a question, do you find yourself thinking about the next one? Hopefully, this doesn’t happen frequently to you but if it does, read on.
To be a more effective listener:
- Choose to be an active listener before the conversation begins! I know this sounds a little crazy but just deciding that you want to be a better listener will actually improve your chances.
- Find a place as free of distractions as possible for your meeting.
- When the meeting begins, make eye contact with the subject matter expert and don’t glance at your watch or check your smartphone for emails! They will notice!
- Ask questions but allow them to respond in their own way. Avoid trying to finish their sentences and watch your body language! Encourage them with nodding.
- After hearing their response, pause and then clarify with a follow-up question if you need more information.
- Once you’ve understood the question, paraphrase what they’ve said and offer feedback based on what you’ve learned.
So, what’s the benefit for Instructional Designers who master the art of active listening? For starters, it helps you focus more attentively on your subject matter expert which has a tendency to make them open up and provide more information. Secondly, it helps you avoid misunderstandings that can lead to mistakes such as misaligned goals and incorrect learning objectives. Thirdly, it creates an environment of mutual understanding improving your chances of developing a solution that is beneficial to both parties.