Something that struck me at Learning Live earlier this month was how frequently curiosity was mentioned, in terms of being a skill or characteristic that helps L&D professionals to stay relevant, to improve, to learn, to add value.

I agree; I think curiosity is a great thing and I believe that asking the right questions of the right people is an important skill. But I noticed that listening wasn’t mentioned with anywhere near the same frequency. Asking questions is all well and good, but the real value is in the quality of the listening to the answers. To what is being said, but also to what is not. To how things are being said, by whom, and in what situations and contexts.

As a natural observer and a quiet introvert, I often find myself watching conversations unfold rather than being one of the most active participants. I can lead and contribute when appropriate or necessary, but I am not one who believes that airtime equates to value. I also find that those occasions when I am primarily an observer, a listener, can be some of the most interesting and useful; if I am not distracted by considering my next point, or by looking for a pause to allow me to jump into the discussion, I can follow the unpredictable and evolving course of a conversation more attentively.

In terms of listening as an L&D skill in particular, I think the rewards are plentiful; it can help to:

  • Distinguish between what the business needs and what the people on the ground are looking for
  • Sort through the noise, the buzzwords, the hype and understand what’s really worth thinking about, investigating, trying out and investing in
  • Notice great ideas and glean gems of inspiration from unexpected places
  • Identify where the ‘white space’ is, in which nobody else is operating, and find opportunities that other people might miss

These are just a few benefits off the top of my head; no doubt there are many more. I’d love to hear examples of where listening made a real difference – to you, your development, a project you worked on, whatever it might be. Get in touch and let me know!

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