The Art of Listening

This past week, I was off doing some training. Most of the time, when I go to do training onsite, I’m the only one traveling, and I spend much of my free time on my own. There’s something to be said for that, after spending all day in front of people, it’s nice to unwind a bit. However, this trip was a bit different. This organization had brought me out to do training, and had their people travel in to a central location for training from around the country. So we were all staying in the same hotel. Again, after a long day of training, that can be a challenge. If I wanted a quiet dinner alone, I needed to get out of the hotel. Luckily, for this trip, I actually didn’t mind running into my students in the hotel bar when I went to grab a bite to eat. If anything, it was a reminder of one of the things that can make me a better trainer, and just a better person all the way around; listening.

It always surprises me, though you would think that by now it wouldn’t, just how amazing it is for people to have someone just sit and listen to them tell their story. Much of our lives is spent doing the routine, interacting with people in the same ways, never really being interested in each other. Even when traveling, or doing something out of the ordinary, we may meet new people, but rarely do they just spend time being interested in what we have to say. We share a few laughs, and go about our lives again. Training is very much like that. At the end of the day I hope my students take some knowledge with them, and that knowledge helps them be more efficient at their job, but for the most part, you spend a day with them, maybe a couple of days, and you go on with your lives. On the other hand, each of those people have a history, a story of their own. One they probably don’t tell other people very often. They are dealing with their own struggles, have overcome their own issues, and deserve a measure of understanding. Given all we are dealing with every day, what a difference a small gesture can make.

I had a classroom full of stories this week, and while I couldn’t listen to all of them, I know I was able to make someone’s day just by letting them tell me about their jobs, their lives, and their experiences. So often in life we are helpless to really help people in need. We have to take care of our lives, our families, our work, etc., as well we should. So when we can make a positive impact on someone simply by listening, and we are presented with that opportunity, why do we do it so infrequently?

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