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Why after training programs

Post-training skills conversations is a ListenFirst core value. In our minds, the listening training is invariably a two-step process: the training and the follow-up programs.

We ask our participants to hold this same mindset. This would be true for a half-day presentation, a one-day workshop, or a week-long retreat. No matter how successful a training program might be in giving someone a new vision and the possibility for a new life, there is always the matter of going home and transferring the training to one’s daily life. How does one fit a new life into an old one?

Our staff mindset is that, realistically, even an intense, practice-laden three-day listening workshop can at best be viewed only as an introduction to the skill. The vast majority of participants, even with the best of intentions, will not be able to integrate the skills and make it into a life practice. To do that requires follow-up coaching. This is especially true when conversations, for whatever reason, are difficult.

See more on the rationale for this requirement below, after the following list of possible coaching opportunities. You will read 3 reasons for why ListenFirst so strongly recommends people taking advantage of one or more of these coaching options.

What does ListenFirst coaching look like

  • 1-hour phone “reinforcement session”This is held on a week-day evening 2-3 weeks after the workshop. People are asked to keep track of their conversations and bring to the call situations where their listening worked or didn’t. We discuss, teach, answer questions
  • On-going online reminder emailsPeople who sign up for this “Extended Learning” email option choose to receive short memory joggers (e.g. “Remember to pay attention and don’t multi-task even on the phone” with an explanatory paragraph) at intervals of their choosing for up to six months: daily, once/week, once/month
  • Subscription to the ListenFirst weekly blog and monthly newsletter.                                              This is provided free to workshop participants.
  • Participation in webinars. The ListenFirst web site will have available a variety of conversations to review basic concepts from the workshops, and to learn more advanced applications of the skills.
  • Individual phone or video coachingPeople request time with one of the ListenFirst trainers to practice the skills, talk about a particular problem, have questions answered
  • Group phone coachingThis opportunity is offered once/month throughout the year to all graduates who have participated in any ListenFirst event. A trainer will be on the call for a two-hour time block to which people can jump in and out or stay for the entire call. The trainer will initiate some of the conversation topics, and will respond to those brought up by the participants.
  • Team coaching. This coaching of your work group can occur on a phone call, through a teleconference, or from an on-site visit. It is 100% task oriented, which means your group uses this time to work on your actual, real-time issues. There is no lost time away from work. As you do your work, a ListenFirst trainer intervenes to coach the skills as needed. Most of our corporate workshops are open-enrollment sessions. People attend from different organizations, or from different departments within an organization. The ListenFirst group strongly recommends that intact work teams attend a workshop together. The common experience gives everyone the same conceptual understanding of the skills, and the same language with which to talk about it. This affords a tremendous opportunity for team members to coach each other and to keep the skills alive in 1:1 conversations, conference calls, and staff meetings.
  • Coaching the “Champion” ideally, the boss of the team, department, or division will champion the skills. For instance, as a standard practice he or she might begin every daily or weekly morning meeting with a five-minute focus on how the listening has been working for people. Say: “Someone give me an example of how you used listening with a customer since our last meeting.” Beyond the commitment of the boss, we find that at least one person in a group needs to be an active daily witness to the skills, holding people accountable as they talk on breaks, in meetings, on the phone, or in the parking lot. When the “Listening Champion” walks into a room, just by his or her presence everyone is reminded that the corporate agreement is for a higher standard of communication. The “how to” of being this kind of champion requires coaching, from the initial identification and buy-in of the person, to his or her mindset as the acknowledged standard bearer of the skills. The champion needs to learn how, when, and where to intervene effectively with others — to reinforce, and to correct.
  • Executive development coaching program. Individual contributors are promoted for their technical expertise in order to have greater impact and influence over others. That influence requires a high degree of “people skills.” Those skills don’t come as standard equipment with technical competence. We find that senior managers, often a step away from termination despite their value to the company, are missing the people skills to go with their technical competence. This tends to be the focus of our three-day “Executive Development Coaching Program.” With listening as the core skill of this training, executives are given rigorous practice in such areas as managing others’ strong emotions, delivering difficult feedback, and flexing one’s leadership style. Built into this program is a period of on-going coaching, usually for six months, tailored to the needs of the individual.

More on the rationale for on-going “listening” skills coaching

  1. We live in a non-listening world. This post-workshop coaching is not offered as an add-on, as a nice sounding option. It is recommended as a necessity. The reason? It is not as if people who leave a listening workshop return to an environment that supports use of their new skill. Listening is a very different dynamic than exists with most other learnings – most of which have societal support. A person who spends a day learning about healthy nutrition and the importance of exercise, for instance, will find many examples of that out in the world – there will be programs on TV, runners and bicyclists will be riding through parks, supermarkets will have ever-expanding health food sections. With listening the reality is very different. As a standard, listening is non-existent in society. Neighbors don’t do it. Family members don’t do it. Co-workers and customers don’t do it. The reality is that there is no communal support for it. Logically, then, to bring a skill like listening out into a world that doesn’t listen requires a lifetime of swimming upstream. How long can a person swim against the current? It gets tiring.Our after-workshop coaching is like getting continual encouragement whispered into your ear. “You can do it. Don’t give up. What you are doing works, even if no one else is doing it. We can work out the problems. Hang in there. We can change things.”

    The ListenFirst group realizes this is not good news. And, the swimming upstream metaphor is our reality for what it takes to implement and integrate these skills. The coaching component is designed into our work because we don’t want people disappointed three weeks or two months or one year down the road with the listening having disappeared from their lives.

    To prevent this long-term disappointment, we temper the excitement of participants’ leaving our workshops. A parting gift is an article entitled “Twenty Blocks to Skill Implementation.” Although this tends to burst some bubbles, it is the start of our strong commitment to post-workshop coaching. We’d rather our people leave with sober thoughts and feelings about what’s ahead such as, I’m excited, and I know this isn’t going to be easy. And, I’m committed to making listening a part of my life at work and at home. This is our preferred response from exiting participants’ rather than Wow, can’t wait to start! This is great! Marcia is going to be so happy with this change she’ll see in me. And, what a great way to take the acrimony out of our team meetings!

    The non-listening world is a fact. This is not the ListenFirst perception of reality. It is the reality. This is an irrefutable statement of the human condition. You might think this is an exaggeration. No one listens? Really? Can it be true that a newbie listener most likely won’t find anyone in his/her life who listens well? No neighbors? No friends or family? No work colleagues?

    Think about it. How can they? Where would they have learned how to do it? As a concrete skill, listening is not taught in our schools. Much as the ListenFirst group would like to see it taught as the basic curriculum in pre-kindergarten and early grades, it is not. It is also not modeled. Very few teachers know how to listen. This is a common complaint of students. The same is true for school principals. And, the Superintendent of Schools or the members of the Board of Education. How often is high quality listening seen as a demonstrated skill during a contentious school board meeting with parents and community members?

    So, where do young people learn it? They don’t. Certainly not from parents who grew up in the same school systems and who are notoriously poor listeners, especially during times of disagreement or conflict. Would this non-listening dynamic be any different in the workplace? No. Most people are promoted based on their technical skills, not their people skills. So having the title Operations Manager or Vice President of Engineering does not automatically bring with it the mindset or the skills and skill sets of listening.

    This is, simply, what’s so. In “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Hans Christian Anderson’s famous fairy tale, a naïve, misguided Emperor is naked while believing he is elegantly dressed. He is not wearing any clothes and no one dares to say that they don’t see any suit of clothes until during a parade a child cries out, but he isn’t wearing anything at all! In our context, here, that little boy might just as easily be offering a similar wake-up call, But no one listens! The ListenFirst” group is challenging the collective human denial of an obvious fact.

  2. We are required to break old habits. Behavior change is not easy, especially in the area of interpersonal skills. A typical 41-year-old adult, for example, has been relating to others in a particular way for many years. Learning to listen, then, is unlike learning something like taking up woodworking and becoming proficient at using a lathe. There is no undoing with the lathe experience. It is simply learning how to do something new. It is very different with communication because deeply ingrained habits built over years and years of relating to others have to be broken.
  3. We must manage the reactions of others. Assuming one is willing to start listening as learned, and is able successfully to do that, there is still the matter of other peoples’ reaction to the change. Imagine a spouse who’s been living with someone for 19 years who comes home after a workshop one evening and begins to listen differently. That change, even if positive and especially if sprung on the partner without preparing him/her properly, is going to cause confusion at the very least. There can also be harsher feelings of doubt, suspicion, and mistrust. Spouses have said the same message to us in a variety of forms: My wife has been complaining for 11 years ‘You never listen to me!’ Now I come home and start to listen and she says, ‘Stop that fancy psychological crap. I like you better the way you were. At least you were normal.’ The truth is that this wife does want her husband to be a better listener. She is just nervous. When one partner in a long-term relationship makes a major change, or wants to, the other partner is almost always left with two unconscious and unpleasant categories of concern:
    • Fear of loss of affection: “If he is changing like this, what if he keeps changing?                     Our relationship is going to be different enough as it is, and he might not want to be with me anymore. I want him to stay the same even if I don’t like it.”
    • Fear of loss of identity: “If he is serious about all this, and keeps doing it, then I won’t be able to stay the same. I am going to have to change. I don’t want to change. What will that look like? Who will I be?”

    The same dynamics are true with implementing interpersonal skill changes at work.                 One manager told us about her unskilled boss who said to her, ‘You’re too abrasive with people. They complain to me all the time. I want you to go learn how to listen.’ The manager told us how she went to our workshop, learned the skills, and started implementing them back at work with her team.

    She related an incident in which she listened well during a team meeting. Her people were very upset about an on-going issue in their division. She said her listening calmed the people down and enabled them to clarify the real need. After the meeting, her boss who was observing said to her, ‘Stop all that listening you’re doing. It’s too much, makes you look soft.                                 You are the manager. They are crybabies. Stop coddling them and tell them what to do!’