The importance of listening cannot be over-emphasized

“Good listening skills focus more on the relationship and feelings side of people and therefore complement our efforts to convince others to our way of thinking.”

Influencing without Authority in on of our training programs, Influencing Without Authority, I have observed many recurring patterns and pitfalls that are shared by the various different groups of functional managers, project managers, and sales people who have gone through the training.

One pattern in particular is that people often equate influencing with convincing. However, convincing is a more self-centered way of communication.

For example, I recently trained a group of middle level managers at a large multinational company in the energy sector. The manager of the pricing department expressed challenges in winning support from the GM of the sales department. He was invited to roleplay his talk with the GM. In observing the conversation, we realized that both sides were busy and effective in presenting strong arguments related to their departmental interests and concerns. However, there was really no “interaction” between the two because there was no overlap in the contents discussed and neither was “listening” to the other. The result was that both were good at convincing, but no influence happened.

Good listening skills play a critical role in helping to connect two conflicting parties and open up the opportunity to solve a problem together. Without good listening, a stalemate between both sides will be the most likely result.

Here are a few reasons why using good listening skills and influencing without authority are just as important, if not more important, than being able to use verbal power to convince someone to meet your needs.

To influence is to understand
Many organizations in today’s fast-paced world have a results-driven culture. When it comes to communication, a results-driven style also becomes the norm. Values such as being direct, clear and logical with hard facts and figures are encouraged when interacting with internal and external clients.
Nevertheless, in real life situations, for influence to happen, no matter whether you are selling a product to an external client or trying to overcome a conflict with an inter-departmental colleague, understanding the other’s needs and concerns becomes critical to influence them to buy or to change opinions. Exploring a customer’s needs and challenges, or the concerns of a colleague from a different functional department, is often required if one wants to influence them. Without communication behaviors geared towards understanding of the other, efforts to influence tend to be pointless. All in all, good listening skills are the tools to use to open up, explore, and to understand our targeted person/group before making any attempt to influence them.

To be understood, first try to understand
We often hear people complain about others being too “pushy”. Constantly sending messages in hope that others will accept becomes pushy and communication becomes one way. On the other hand, listening is a sign of showing respect and is an invitation for two-way communication. Instead of pushing, we pull the other to our side. When we want to influence someone, we expect to gain their acceptance first. By practicing good listening skills we understand and show respect to others’ viewpoints first, before inviting others to listen to us. Others are more likely to be receptive to listening to us after we have listened to and respected them.

Building connections
We tend to focus on the content and rational side when communicating with others. However, building connections is just as important. Though logical arguments and strong statements backed up by hard facts and numbers can be necessary in resolving differences of opinions in organizational settings, these behaviors sometimes create distance between people. Good listening skills focus more on the relationship and feelings side of people and therefore complement our efforts to convince others to our way of thinking, and succeed in our influencing.

When we face a world of diverse employees, who each possess a different personality, being able to touch both their rational and emotional side gives us more flexibility in influencing others in the organization.

Assertive behavior creates personal and organizational effectiveness

“A work environment in which assertion is the norm will be one in which unnecessary and destructive interpersonal tensions are reduced to a minimum.”

Encourage Your Employees to Speak Up it is a fact that many individuals, for whatever reason, are not naturally assertive. They either fail to communicate their needs in a straightforward fashion, or do so in a way that is unhelpful to others. In conflict situations, they have a tendency to lose control, or alternatively, say nothing and swallow their feelings. Being assertive means standing up for oneself without unnecessarily offending others and helps create a positive and more effective workplace.

For Chinese employees working in multinational organizations, practicing assertiveness may be especially challenging as it means they must dare to speak out and express their individual thoughts and opinions when facing people in higher positions. A real-life example of this dynamic occurred while we were training the R&D managers in the Chinese office of a major US telecommunications company. Several managers expressed the wish to try new behaviors and challenge themselves to speak up in public. Coincidentally, a global director from the company’s US headquarters happened to be visiting China and a town hall meeting was scheduled.
The global director had reservations about meeting with the Chinese employees because previously they had been reluctant to express themselves. He had even decided not to mention the company’s new strategic plan at the meeting unless asked about it, as he did not expect they would offer any input or feedback. At the meeting, he was surprised to find the Chinese managers behaving assertively – part of their homework from the training. The global director was so impressed by the Chinese managers at this meeting that a year later he moved the company’s global research center to China.

Encouraging your employees to speak up is only the first step in assertiveness training. Since many issues in the workforce are caused by communication failures, it can be an important part of overall staff development.

A work environment in which assertion is the norm will be one in which unnecessary and destructive interpersonal tensions are reduced to a minimum. For this reason, many organizations now integrate assertiveness training into their mainstream management development programs. Behaving more assertively makes one more effective in one’s job. Assertion tends to breed assertion, so people are more likely to work with an assertive colleague, rather than against him/her. In turn, this makes it easier to get satisfactory outcomes. We believe assertiveness can benefit one’s personal effectiveness in many ways:
A Better Chance of Your Needs Being Met: If you behave more assertively, you state more clearly what your needs, wants, ideas and opinions are. This increases the chance that your needs will be met and your opinions taken into account. At the same time, assertion is not about ignoring or dismissing the needs of others; instead you encourage others to make their own needs known. When needs conflict, then we believe assertive behavior helps individuals find solutions that are acceptable to both people.

Greater Confidence: In some instances your needs may not be met. The important point here is that, should this happen, because you made your needs or views known, you are more likely to feel ‘okay’ about yourself and the situation. This increased confidence about yourself helps you to recognize and accept the strengths of those who work with you or for you, rather than being threatened by them.

Taking The Initiative: If you hope to influence the environment in which you work, it is important to take initiative. These initiatives may be small

— for example, putting forward an idea in a meeting, or large — such as changing the flow of work through your department. If you behave assertively you are not afraid of failure or making a mistake.

Energy Savings: When you are no longer preoccupied with not upsetting others or losing out, you will save yourself a lot of nervous energy, and experience a reduction in stress and tension associated with getting results. Decisions become less stressful because you will be less concerned with what people think and the fear of making a mistake. This allows you more time to work productively in other aspects of your job.

Leading From the Inside- Out

I recently joined a coaching program that offered a more holistic view on coaching, giving participants more of a “life” perspective for tackling business- related problems. We were first required to go through a process of self-discovery. Amongst the group was a senior executive/consultant who, at the end of the program, had mixed feelings about its usefulness. He enjoyed the areas covering specific coaching skills but had expected a more direct business focus. He felt that business executives would only be willing to pay for coaching geared towards behavior improvement or business results. “Who will pay for discovering who they are and what their values are?” he said. And thiswould seem to be a valid concern.

I learned a lot about this executive as we went through the program together, and he showed both his strengths and his weaknesses. He dislikes having a full schedule all the time and being committed to everyone else but himself. He almost perceives there to be a contradiction between being his real self and being successful in business. His job requires him to be very creative and insightful yet rational and logical as well. When he states his opinions, he speaks with caution and authority. He is very good at advising people.

The feedback he received from the group sug- gested that he use his intuition and show his real self more, including his artistic and fun-loving traits, and his strong desire for freedom of choice. Though he resisted the focus on self-discovery, if he acts upon the self-knowledge he gained through the program it would certainly help him achieve those results.


This executive’s experience shows exactly why self-awareness is so critical to leadership development. Coaching from a life perspective can indirectly lead to breakthroughs and benefit senior executives. Leaders often try very hard to “act” as leaders, and to insist that they are always “ right.” Employees may aggrandize their leader too, expecting them to always have the answers. As a result, sometimes a leader projects a personality to others that is quite different from whom they really are. This may cause them to behave in a certain way as to meet the expectations of others, rather than leading from the “inside out”. They may lose the quality that is usually highly prized in a leader– their uniqueness. We usually find a leader charis- matic or inspirational because of who they are as a person; this internal source of power enables them to have a strong influence on others.


When learning new skills and behaviors during the coaching process, senior executives aim to get closer to ‘perfect’ – they think that it demon- strates greater leadership. In effect, however, adding new skills and behaviors is like adding new software programs to a computer. The operational system remains the same, and the source of power is exter- nal, not from within, and so becomes shaky.
When we help these executives to find out who they are, we are helping them to find their anchor points. For example, we recently developed a leader- ship program from the European headquarters of a multinational company, which focused extensively on leaders’ self awareness and self discovery. We worked with Chinese managers to identify their personality types, their typical team roles, as well as their influencing styles – in essence preparing them to know themselves first. By identifying their anchor points, they can have a more accurate self-perception and identify gaps for personal growth. It has been proven to be the most successful and well-received leadership program we have delivered so far in China. Focusing on the strengths and the core values of the individual helps them to develop a foundation for shaping their own unique style of leadership.


Leadership is not about being right all the time, it is about being real. It is about authenticity and sometimes, vulnerability, as well. Daring to show weaknesses only makes a leader one of “us” and approachable to his/her followers. Authentic leadership is about daring to be one’s real self and having consistency between internal and external personality. Only when leadership is from the inside- out, can power be sustainable and influential withothers.


Rethinking Training Effectiveness: from the Perspective of Trainees’ Motivation to Learn

Lately, I have been giving a lot of thoughts to the longstanding question that bothers almost all training managers, that is, how to make trainings effective? Of course, our warm hearted training managers and specialists tend to exhaust themselves in their attempt to create conditions for effective training. In this article, I want to first differentiate different types of motivations that could affect training effectiveness; secondly, I want to call attention to conditions/sources of motivation that are often the most critical to learning effectiveness but are oftentimes ignored by training managers and specialists; lastly, I want to briefly explain why brain based learning is oftentimes not as effective as the experiential way of learning when it comes to adult learning.

It is useful to check beforehand where the motivation of the participants stems from. The most attractive participants are those who are motivated to attend the course ‘from within’. The participant actually does not need an incentive. This form of motivation is called ‘intrinsic motivation’. If a participant is motivated by others, this is called ‘extrinsic motivation’. A new job, a possible dismissal or a raise can be the incentives that motivate the partici¬pant. In addition, one may also have to deal with ‘conditional motivation’. Participants are motivated by all kinds of pleasant circumstances that may occur during the course, such as social contacts, etc. In addition, motivation can be influenced in a positive way, when the participant sees a meaningful relation between the learning material and what he is going to do with it. The relevance of the learning material has to be clear to the participants. The gap from theory to practice needs to be as small as possible.

What I would like to stress is that while we oftentimes recognize how external factors, such as a pay rise or a promotion opportunity can help to motivate organizational employees to learn, the ideal participants are those who are internally motivated. In reality, when identifying training needs and deciding sending whom to what training programs, HR practices can include HRs or functional managers subjectively nominating participants to attend certain learning programs. Referring back to the above mentioned motivational factors and conditions, clearly when that happens, individuals are not internally motivated to learn; neither is the participant likely to see a clear goal of the learning—the meaningful relevance of the learning. In other situations, organizational employees are sent to certain training programs due to negative performance review in certain areas (according to their direct managers) or gaps between individual competency status and competencies required for a given job according to organizational competency models. Clearly, when participants show up in a training program for the above mentioned reasons, they can be very much goal driven and can see clear “meaningful relevance” of their learning. Nevertheless, they may not be internally motivated to learn. That is, if their managers or others (say, people who are the 360 degree feedback givers) believe they should improve in certain areas, the level of motivation on the participants are still not the same as when the participants themselves recognize the needs. Therefore, only when employees are very much involved in the process of identifying learning needs and gaps and are consulted with before being sent to a training program, can they be internally motivated to learn. Clearly, the more attention we give to this step of learning preparation, the more effective we can expect the learning results to be.

Becoming internally motivated is not only relevant to the process of identifying learning needs, it is also relevant to the process of learning itself, that is, the training methods. It is not difficult to imagine, for example, a participant who is very much motivated and eager to learn comes to a very boring and didactic style training program, his/her enthusiasm for learning is immediately dampened by what is actually happening in the training site. So their internal motivation needs to be sustained in the training as well, which has a lot to do with how training is actually organized and conducted.

Traditionally, training is trainer-centered and brain-based. First, in terms of roles that trainers and participants play in training, one option is that trainers are the “stars” occupying the central stage. They are supposed to be experts that have solutions to all problems that their trainees might have. The type of training can be effective when the participants can see clear relevance to their real work situations, they cases that the trainers give can be transferrable to their work settings, and that they believe that the trainers’ knowledge and experience is relevant and helpful to their problems. Alternatively, the internal motivation of the participants can be better secured through making them the center of learning. That is, trainers are coaches and facilitators and the content of the training is from their real work and life experiences of the participants (sometimes they get help in training periodically while they are engaged in real projects). First, adults learn best or are the most motivated to learn through self awareness and self reflections. Coaches thus play the questioning role most of the time. The trainees consequently drive the process of learning with their own problems. In my opinion, this latter way of training, what we call, the experiential way of learning, fits the characteristics of adult learning much better in many situations, as they are more trainee centered (coaching/facilitating style versus didactic style) and are more directly related to application (action and behavior based versus brain based). I devote the last part of my article to an explanation of the difference between brain based training and the experiential way of learning.

Traditional training and education focuses often on the left brain (aiming at ratio, logic, analyses, language, with as result automatisms based on insight). it assumes too much that learning is made possible by the logic of the new information. The logic in itself should bring forward learning. Features of these interventions are: instruction/demonstration, systematic practice and giving feedback. At the most this kind of learning leads to the fact that the learner can tell what he has learned but in fact does not use the knowledge in his daily practice. As a result there is asynchrony between what employees think (their theories and conceptions) and what they actually do (their daily routines).

To activate the right brain part (feelings, experiences, associations, images, with as result experience based behavior), trainers should work more with imaginative language, powerful metaphors and behavior instructions. With telling how to act, without very much explaining why, it is expected that workers will act in the desired way and that insight will follow behavior . When you use a more explaining way of instruction (selling) it is expected that the logic will convince the worker and the new insight will trigger the behavior. Clearly, the linkage between theory and application can be much closer in the experiential way of learning.
To summarize, in this article I call for new perspectives and new ways of thinking in terms of guaranteeing the effectiveness of training. Training managers have been frustrated by looking for solutions to ensure the effectiveness of training. They may be happily surprised if they start to focus more on the internal motivation of the participants, not only from the perspective of identifying training needs, but also from the perspective of identify the right training methods. We can create all favorable conditions for our participants by selecting brand name vendors, by providing pleasant training environments, by developing complex competency models and elaborated process of performance appraisals, but in the end, the people who we want to train have a more decisive impact on the result of training. Only when we give sufficient attention to their motivation to learn, can we have a better chance of being effective in training them.

The Linkage between Training Effectiveness & Organizational Goals

According to a recent survey done by Universal Ideas Management Training corporation, one overarching issue that bothers HR and training managers the most is the linkage between training and the strategic/practical goals of organizations. A related issue, of course, is the recurring question of how to make training programs more effective. I want to briefly address the two issues in this article and a more elaborated article will follow later.

Regarding connecting training needs with the strategic goal of organizations, overall, I suggest that organizations don’t think of training companies as shops for specific products that apply to all problems under a given name, instead, they should think of training companies as solution providers, who can work within organizational contexts. I witness that organizations are now moving towards that direction through the following means:

 To develop a competency model and identify expected competencies for each job position. Identify gaps between each job position and competencies of individual employees filling in the job. When training needs is identified in this way, training can be oriented by specific goals. The measurement of training effect can also be connected with required competencies—whether expected knowledge or behaviors have been successfully added/improved as a result of the training.

 To connect organizational values and behavior expectations with training. When organizations are very clear and specific about what behaviors they expect from the employees, training can be used as a tool to promote organizational expectations. Similarly, training can be used a tool to promote organizational change including culture change.

 To partnership with training companies in developing long term talent/leadership development program. Instead of using training companies on case by case basis, organizations can best take advantage of their professional knowledge and expertise through jointly exploring needs and developing organization-specific programs that are oriented towards long term goals.
A follow up question, then, is how to make training effective? I propose the following thoughts:
 To give more attention to the characteristics of adult learning and make our participants the owner of their learning process. Adults can only learn when they are internally motivated through self awareness. Learning can be more effective when the participants feel active in the process.

 To make the learning process driven by clearer goals, including both organizational goals and individual goals. When the goals are specific, visible, and recognize by the participants, training can be more result-oriented.

 To focus more on behavior level training and action-centered learning. While general knowledge can be helpful, the real challenge lies in behavior change and connecting knowledge with real work.

Organizational effectiveness is achieved through personal effectiveness. When individual employees feel that they are truly respected in learning, coached in a way that can facilitate their personal development, and they can easily see performance improvement after training, they are more motivated to learn. Similarly, when individuals are performing at their best, organizational results can be maximized. Finally, organizational strategies and changes only take on real meaning when they are reflected in individual employees’ everyday behaviors, which then become trainable. The linkage between the two still takes some time to be explored and realized, but at least, we are moving towards that direction.


作为思腾中国的 高级培训师,我在与客户打交道的过程中发现客户在培训的过程中最关注的也是抱怨最多的问题便是培训的效果。众所周知,培训对于企业来说是笔不小的投资。甚 至有人认为培训是所有的采购里风险最高的。因此企业的培训主管们在培训供应商的选择方面往往是谨小慎微,唯恐效果不理想。那么,有哪些依据可以帮助人事主 管和部门经理们迅速而准确地做出有效的培训决策呢?作为培训机构,我们可以通过哪些努力来确保培训的效果最大化呢?这里,我向大家提供一个思路。也就是 说,我们思腾中国的培训追求的培训效果是怎样的,以及我们是如何通过独特的体验式培训来帮助我们实现理想的培训效果,即学员行为的改变和提升以及相应的组织效能的改善。

首先,思腾的培训在其关注点上有别于许多传统的培训。据笔者观察,当今培训市场上众多的传统培训关注更多的是传授知识经验以及提供工具(认知)。而思腾的软技能培训大多时候关注的是具体行为和身体的体验上 (比如情感感受)。我们认为,对于我们所面对的学员来说,通常他们不乏对知识和理论的铺垫,而急需通过培训解决的问题是从“知道”到“做到,”实现知行合 一。比如说,在我们的领导力培训中,我们发现,学员大多掌握和熟悉中西方的领导力理论,而最大的挑战是其个人领导力行为的提升,比如说,如何开会才能鼓励 众人的参与意识,如何布置任务才能做到既有权威性又不失亲和力,等等。很多时候,相对知识理论而言,学员更加关注的是个人的领导行为效果如何,别人如何看 待他/她的领导行为,以及在效果与期望有差距时,如何调整才能到达理想的状态。这些关于行为和行为效果的问题正是我们思腾在领导力培训中集中针对每个学员 的个人情况来解决的问题。

因 此,如果将培训的目的以增大知识库和提升和拓展行为库来划分的话,思腾的软技能培训的目的在于后者,即旨在帮助学员实现行为的改变和提升以及个人行为库的 拓展。首先,我们致力于帮助学员了解自己,包括自己的期望和人际关系行为在他人身上产生的效果。之后,我们针对个人情况帮助学员找到提升的空间和途径,以 达到行为改变的目的。与此同时,我们关注于帮助学员拓展自己的行为库,这样学员在培训之后才会在与人打交道的过程根据情境灵活多变,在多种可选行为之间游 走自如。

那 么,我们是如果通过科学的,合理的培训安排和培训方法来实现上述的目的的呢?答案很简单,那就是我们的体验式的培训方法可以帮助我们控制培训过程确保培训 效果。这种独具特色的培训方法是基于大量的心理学理念和实践证明的,也就是说是有科学依据的。同时,思腾总部在荷兰及其他欧洲国家三十年的成功史也是对体 验式的培训方法直接导致行为改变的结果的最有说服力的验证。

首 先,我们在培训过程中遵循软化旧习惯,尝试新行为,和固化新习惯的行为改变模式。这个模型源于社会心理学的奠基人库尔特•勒温。行为改变的起点是帮助学员 发现自己,特别是意识到自己某些旧的行为习惯存在问题,比如效果不理想或是发现导致不理想行为发生的驱动力(想法或价值观)并不成立。通常在培训中我们通 过场景重现来鼓励学员展示行为习惯,之后通过培训师以及其他学员对其效果的点评来找到可以提升的空间。举例说,一个并不认为自己是强势的学员在与下属的沟 通过程中展示了强势的沟通行为,如打断他人思路,在对他人问题还未听清就过早的提出指导性的建议。结果,沟通无法畅通进行下去,沟通效果不理想。在这种情 况下,他人的反馈往往可以使学员恍然大悟其行为的效果。接下来,培训师和学员可以共同指导这个学员改进做法,从而在效果上可以显得更加尊重他人,比如可以 建议采用积极倾听的技巧来改善过程和结果。在帮助学员识别弱点并找到改进的方法之后,我们会鼓励学员当场尝试新行为,并找到成功的感觉。心理学的研究告诉 我们,学员通常可以在发现新行为的积极正面的效果后,会自觉自愿的接纳新的行为习惯并将之固化和转移到生活和工作的现实中去。

由 此可见,思腾的体验式的培训与传统意义的培训中的互动有很大的差别。首先,我们互动的过程是遵循心理学行为改变的过程,即展示行为并发现自身弱点,接受点 评和尝试新行为,最后找到成功的感觉并固化新的行为习惯。第二,我们的互动的目的很明确,我们始终是围绕着行为的改变来安排互动的,同时这些互动也大大增 强了培训的趣味性和吸引力。第三,我们的培训案例全部来自学员而并非事先设计好的。我们的目的是使培训直接针对每个学员的个人困境和提升目标。只有当案例 来自于学员,我们才可以更加有效的在培训中挑战和触动学员,从而达到学习和提升的目的。因此,我们的培训不是在快乐中进行的,我们相信,学习和行为的改变 是在触动下发生和固化的。不难想象,我们的培训方法对培训师的应变性充满了挑战。培训师需要密切关注行为的细节,在培训中及时根据 “现场“ 和 “现时”来调整。这一切显然不能像传统的培训设计那样可以事先安排和计划的。第四,区别于传统的培训游戏设计,如沙盘和模拟,我们思腾的培训强调练习设计 的简单性。我们通过让学员搬椅子和布置教室等设计及其简单化的练习,使学员充分展示行为,这样学员在行为无效时很难找到其他借口。

最 后,我们在培训的安排上也积极配合行为改变的进程。具体的说,我们通常在头一天培训结束时布置作业,在两天培训之间安排一周的间隔。这样做的目的是使学员 明确希望改进的行为,并当众向学习小组的所有成员承诺尝试新行为。一周的间隔用于尝试新行为。然后,接下来的课程通常以进展报告的形式开场,这样学员之间 可以互相交流尝试新行为的体验,包括成功之处和失败的原因分享。这样做往往可以激发学员改变的热情,并且学员之间会互相影响并形成行为改变的氛围。

综 上所诉,思腾的体验式培训在每一个环节的设计和安排上都始终围绕行为改变和提升的目的。体验式的互动区别于传统培训的互动。当我们将培训的过程设计以及方 法的应用与培训的实效紧密相连时,培训的效果成为关注的要点并指导整个培训过程。诚恳地希望本文可以对正在为培训效果而发愁的人事经理和培训主管们有所启发。

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