Is Training Always The Answer?

As Learning and Development practitioners, situations arise where someone brings us an issue and has already decided that training is the answer. Depending upon the seniority of the person you are dealing with, your relationship with them, and their willingness to be persuaded, it may not be easy to press the pause button.

While the person we are working with may be correct, we should always do our best to confirm it before taking any other action. If we want to be efficient and solve challenges, we must take the time to solve the correct problem with the proper techniques. In other words, it may not be a training issue at all.

When a customer first engages with us, we must use all our skills and tools at our disposal. One of the essential skills we should possess is active listening; the next is thoughtful inquiry.

Active Listening

Active listening involves several elements:

  1. Paying Attention
  2. Withholding judgment
  3. Reflecting
  4. Clarifying
  5. Summarizing

1. Paying Attention

Sounds obvious, right? We have many opportunities for distraction that pummel us throughout the day. Phone calls, text messages, phone notifications, and visitors to our office are just a few examples. When it is time for us to listen, we should do everything we can to remove the opportunity for distraction. For example, put your phone in “do not disturb” mode. Meet people in a conference room without your laptop. When speaking to someone over the phone, turn your back to your computer screen while on the call. These tips will help you focus on listening and convey to the person you are meeting with that you value them and want to hear what they are saying.

Another important thing you must do when actively listening is to be slow to speak. When the person you are having a conversation with pauses, do not immediately speak. They may not be finished, but rather, gathering their thoughts. Let a few moments pass. There may be more.

2. Withholding Judgement

Often, when we hear information that we believe to be incorrect or not to our liking, our first tendency is to make assumptions or pass judgment on the person bringing us that information. For active listening to work, you should try hard not to do so, like what was alluded to in the Paying Attention section, avoid speaking or arguing a point. Even if you know you are correct, pause judgment.

3. Reflecting

One of the best ways to let someone know that you hear and understand them is to restate what they have said in your own words. It lets them know you know and, as necessary, it allows them to provide additional information or clarification if you do not.

4. Clarifying

Once you have allowed a person to share what they need to, and have reflected upon what you heard, now is the time to dig deeper. Ask open-ended questions designed to go underneath the surface, discover more detail, or perhaps, help them see alternatives to their assumptions, feelings, or conclusions on their own.

5. Summarizing

Once you have allowed a person to share what they need to, and have reflected upon what you heard, now is the time to dig deeper. Ask open-ended questions designed to go underneath the surface, discover more detail, or perhaps, help them see alternatives to their assumptions, feelings, or conclusions on their own.

Thoughtful Inquiry

McTighe and Wiggins (2013) say a good essential question [1]:

  • Is open-ended; that is, it typically will not have a single, final, and correct answer.
  • Is thought-provoking and intellectually engaging, often sparking discussion and debate.
  • Calls for higher-order thinking, such as analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction. It cannot be effectively answered by recall alone.
  • Points toward important, transferable ideas within (and sometimes across) disciplines.
  • Raises additional questions and sparks further inquiry.
  • Requires support and justification, not just an answer.
  • Recurs over time; that is, the question can and should be revisited again and again.

Thoughtful inquiry is essential to determine what is happening. You need to expose additional information, uncover further detail, discover what your customer thinks about an issue, and why they believe training is the solution.

Thoughtful inquiry doesn’t stop with the customer. It would help if you asked to speak to others. Members of the group in question can provide a great deal of insight. You might, and often do, find out that the real issue is very different than the customer believed. The problem might be addressable with training, but communication, performance management, or providing tools and resources may be better solutions. The point is to help your customer understand the true nature of the problem and guide them to the correct course of action. No longer will you be seen as a training resource; your customer will see you as a wise partner.

In conclusion, I am an evangelist for learning. People should be life-long learners, and organizations should be learning organizations. But training is not always the answer. As Learning and Organization Development professionals, our job is to help customers understand the true nature of what is occurring and guide them toward the correct solution. When the right answer is training, we knock their socks off with mind-blowing education that is effective, engaging, and innovative.

References:

[1] What Makes a Question Essential?

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