Today, we are working, learning and teaching online. And as an instructor or leader, it’s your responsibility to know everything you can about your industry or your field of study. However, it’s no longer critical to spend all of your time telling everything you know. With today’s easy access to information, people already know more on the topic at hand than you can probably imagine.
Today it’s no longer “buyer beware.” It is “supplier beware.” Instructors, coaches or teachers are indeed a form of supplier. "Customer is King" now more than ever. Online schools and universities now compete for paying students regardless of geography, and these online students are voting with their tuition payments.
You need the ability to really hear what the student is thinking and feeling. That requires you to really listen and ensure that you actually heard what they meant. This is not as simple as it sounds, especially when you are all located in different time zones!
Listening has not ranked high on the skill bar for most people. Ask anyone for honest feedback and you are likely to confirm that they think most people do a much better job of talking, than listening.
An MIT study found that the major differentiation between top performing people and average producers is “effective listening.” Effective listeners comprehend better, build stronger relationships and foster greater trust. So, in an online world of constant change, an abundance of uncertainty and greater competition, is it any wonder that enhancing your listening skills can pay big dividends?
Think of enhancing your listening skills as a way of adding a new tool to your toolkit. The benefits can be significant in several ways:
Skilled listening shows your genuine interest in the person’s unique situation and needs ,and thus enhances the possibility of interest in your product or service (your course material).
Listening improves your ability to discern what the other person may not be directly saying, but is implying, making you more aware of his emotional drivers. What they don’t say may speak volumes.
Good listening enables you to better interpret critical pieces of information, which can help you to develop a more convincing case for your online material.
Good listening helps to position you as a problem solver—a true professional and subject matter expert who deserves attention and adds to your credibility.
When a person feels that they are truly “heard” and not just superficially listened to, they feel more comfortable with you and become more open to the knowledge that you bring to the table. And this is critical when working, teaching or training online.
Unfortunately, no one is born being a naturally good listener. It’s a learned behavior. The good news is anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort can learn to be an effective listener:
- Spend less time thinking about what you’re going to say and more time thinking about open-ended questions that will get the other person talking and engaged. Don’t dominate the conversation.
- Don’t interrupt. This can be harder than it sounds.
- Be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying and show it by affirmative gestures like nodding, interested facial expressions, and taking notes. This is interesting during High Definition videoconferencing sessions!
- Don’t be influenced by distractions; maintain eye contact and continually make him or her the most important person in the room - especially when the room is a virtual workspace.
- Use feedback to clarify and confirm. Rather than assume you heard what you think you did, repeat important information back in your own words to clarify that what you thought you heard. Make sure you know what the other person meant.
- Don’t react negatively or defensively to comments. Stay focused on your goal and politely address any concern or incorrect statement.
- Become aware of the other person’s communication style. If they pause between thoughts, don’t deliver your responses in a fast-paced manner or visa versa. Match the other person’s pace.
- Be fully engaged. Make yourself fully responsible for ensuring that your time spent communicating with others is successful; successful in that you end your online session with three critical things:
- Insight into the other person that you didn't have before.
- Assurance that you heard all information exactly the way they meant you to hear it.
- A feeling that you have strengthened your relationship with them.