Years ago, during an internal interview for a training role, I had to give a presentation. While I was speaking, one of the managers in the room closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair, and remained that way for the whole presentation. It threw me off a bit – thankfully, there were other people in the room and I directed my presentation towards them.

A few weeks later, I passed the manager in the corridor – and he stopped me and thanked me for my presentation, going into detail about how valuable he found it. He had listened intently to every word I had said and remembered it. And yet, when I was watching him, I had no idea that he was listening; I thought he was asleep!

It was a great example of the effect that passive listening – as opposed to active listening – can have on someone, and highlighted the value of active listening, whether you’re watching a presentation, negotiating, having an important conversation, or just want to build better relationships with the people around you.

Passive vs. Active Listening

Passive listening, as I found during my presentation, can lead speakers to falter or withdraw. When we feel unheard, we’re less inclined to share our thoughts openly. On the other hand, when you demonstrate active listening, you build trust with the person you’re interacting with, encouraging them to be more open and less defensive.

The Art of Active Listening

Want to master the skill of active listening? Here are five ways to show you’re really listening.

1. Eye Contact

Meeting someone’s gaze demonstrates that you’re fully present and listening to what they have to say.

2. Body Language

Lean in to show you’re engaged – don’t slump in your chair, let your gaze wander or close your eyes. Subtly mirror their body language with your own. Establishing rapport through body language builds trust.

3. Verbal Cues

Subtle affirmations like nods, “uh huh,” and “OK” indicate your attentiveness. Avoid interrupting the speaker, but small verbal cues show you’re engaging with what they have to say.

4. Summarising

Reflect back a condensed version of what was said. This shows that you not only listened but understood the essence of their message – and is also a good way to ensure you didn’t miss anything important. 

5. Ask questions

When it’s appropriate (in a natural break in the conversation, or at the end of their presentation), ask questions. This is a great way to keep the conversation going, to engage the person you’re talking to, and to demonstrate that you were listening to what they had to say.

People Remember Active Listeners

Even if you find it difficult to speak up in group settings, you can still demonstrate active listening – and believe me, the speaker will notice. A delegate of one of my NLP Business Practitioner courses once told me about a group interview she attended for a sales job. The first day involved a presentation by some of the sales team followed by a group discussion and exercises for the interviewees. At the end of the day, she met with the hiring manager and was offered the job; he mentioned that even though there were other people who spoke up more during the group discussion, when the sales team were presenting she was fully engaged, clearly listening to everything they were saying, and that was why they’d chosen her.

Active Listening Helps You Build Better Relationships

We’ve all been in one of those conversations where you can tell the person you’re talking to isn’t really listening to what you’re saying; they’re just waiting until it’s their turn to speak. On the other hand, having a conversation with someone who’s fully engaged with you, making eye contact and asking great questions, is really enjoyable, often gets you to open up more than you normally would, and you’ll always remember that person positively.

Whether you’re negotiating an important deal, at a job interview or delivering difficult feedback, active listening will help you get the results you want – but it’ll also help you to build better relationships with the people around you, which has long-lasting benefits beyond whatever you hoped to achieve with one conversation.

Active listening is really simple, and it’s a great skill to practice. I challenge you to take what you’ve learned in this blog post, and use it in the interactions you have for the rest of the week – and notice the effect it has. You’ll almost certainly get more out of those interactions than you would as a passive listener.

If you’d like to develop your active listening skills further, have a look at my Active Listening microlearning course on my online academy Evolve Online Learning. It’s a short, focused 10 minute course designed to develop your active listening skills. 

I recently came across an article in the Harvard Business Review which cited a study that found that only 12% of employees apply new skills learned in training and development to their jobs. The article focused on lean learning: how it can help organisations make the most of their training budget, improve learning retention and empower employees to gain real, lasting value from the training they do.

What is lean learning?

Like launching with a minimum viable product, lean learning is identifying the core of what you need to learn, and focusing on that. What is really useful for you to learn for your role? What skills do you or your team need? It means approaching learning and development with a focus on retention: regular review, applying learned skills quickly in the real world, receiving immediate feedback and adjusting accordingly.

It’s ensuring that employees “not only learn the right thing, at the right time, and for the right reasons, but also that they retain what they learn.”

How to apply lean learning at your organisation

The principles of lean learning will help you spend your training budget more efficiently – and spend your employees time spent learning more wisely – which means more focused and better training for your team, and happier and better-trained employees who have the skills they need to do their job well.

Here’s how to apply the principles of lean learning at your organisation:

Make sure training aligns with employees’ needs

Before you start lining up training for your team, assess what they need. Speak to your team, or carry out a skills matrix exercise to identify where the gaps are and how you can fill them.

Make retention a priority from the beginning

Build retention into the training itself, rather than making it an afterthought. Before you start planning training, think about how you’re going to ensure it sticks. This might look like planning one-on-one coaching sessions after the training, to address any questions your team might have – or backing up in-person training with online content that employees can go back to review when they need to. We often pair face-to-face training sessions with access to our online academy, where delegates can go back to review online versions of the sessions (and other related courses) at their own pace.

Encourage your team to learn in a way that works for them

There are some broad-brush skills that are useful to everyone in an organisation, but often, more targeted topics and methods of learning are a better use of training resources. Instead of signing your whole organisation up for a workshop that only applies to 10% of the team, think about how you can offer more flexible methods for learning. Many people learn best by doing, and immediate feedback helps them to adjust and absorb what they’ve learned in real-time. Others might benefit from learning in smaller chunks: microlearning courses or audio versions of training sessions will give them the opportunity to learn during breaks or while out walking.

Lean learning on the Evolve Online Academy

We’ve been delivering corporate training and coaching for almost 25 years, and we’ve found that a targeted, flexible approach with a focus on retention is the best way to guarantee good learning outcomes.

We don’t work in a one-size-fits-all way with businesses: we tailor the support we offer based on organisations’ particular needs. We look at their goals and plans, where the gaps are in their team, and how we can address them in the most efficient way. We offer packages of in-person and online training, one-to-one coaching, and access to our online academy that allows teams to learn long-term.

We can create bespoke online content to go alongside in-person training or coaching, so businesses can give their teams access to the online content to watch, re-watch and review at their own pace (and even their own speed – they can watch at half-speed or in double-time).

We offer a range of course lengths, from in-depth toolkits to short 10-minute microlearning courses focusing on a particular skill.

Including corporate memberships in a package of business training allows employees continued access to the learning content, from videos to PDF downloads and audio recordings of sessions, so that they can review what they’ve learned or refresh their skills when they need to. We often hear of delegates pulling up the course videos on their phone to review before a meeting or presentation!

You can view the Evolve Online academy content here, or get in touch to talk to us about how we can help you make the most of your L&D budget with lean learning and a tailored package of support.