In today's knowledge-based and technology-facilitated workplace, it is especially important that we don't forget that real connections with real people are the foundations for learning. As learners, we need to stretch our communication skills to fit the fast-paced and obstacle -laden learning environment. As seminar leaders and trainers , we need to find ways to lead learners into understandings and techniques that build these essential skills. This short, lively activity touches the soul and body, the spirit and the guts of the skill of listening. It has been used successfully in numerous AMA seminars for at least a decade .
Seminar Leader Dr. Kay Krohne comments that contrary to what many folks believe, "listening is not a passive exercise, but one that demands all our attention. These nonverbal activities help us to focus on what is being said. Kay says, "Tell trainees to remember how it feels, viscerally, to really listen and to go to that place whenever they know they need to focus".
Hearing despite distractions
Building on what others say
Staying in the moment
Using positive body language to support the speaker
This exercise generates a lot of energy and laughter ; everyone seems to like it regardless of their backgrounds, levels of expertise, or interests. Trainees experience that listening is indeed an active, intentional, focused endeavor.
To recognize the power of active listening
To understand the nature of active listening
To hear despite distractions
To build on what others say
To acquire a visceral sense of what it "feels" like to really listen
To experience what it feels like to be heard
Flipchart or whiteboard
Moveable chairs so that trainees can sit knees to knees
Ask trainees to pair up by saying, "Find a partner and sit knees to knees with that partner . You do not have to touch knees!" (This produces laughter and gets them moving into the proper position for what comes next .)
Ask them to decide who will be "A" and who will be "B".
Ask the group to give you three words (as long as they are relatively politically correct!) All pairs use the same three words.
Write the three words on a flipchart or whiteboard where everyone can see them.
Ask the "A"s to raise their hands. Thank them for offering to be "A"s and tell them that "B"s will start.
Explain that "B"s will be telling a story to "A"s using the three words chosen by the group and written on the flipchart or whiteboard. Thirty seconds will be allotted for "B"s to tell their stories.
Then explain that "A"s will be listening to "B"s as they've never been listened to before. Why? Because "A" likes them, but also because, when "A"s hear the whistle blow, they, the "A"s, will be taking over the story where the "B"s left off.
Explain that every time the whistle blows, partners will switch positions from listening to storytelling. Explain that their only obligation is to keep talking by building onto what their partners were saying before they took over the story. Tell them to keep going until the whistle blows again.
Tell them not to panic when it's their turn to talk, as the whole exercise will take only three minutes. Explain that you will blow the whistle once when you want them to switch, and that they are to keep switching back and forth until you blow the whistle three times in succession.
Ask if there are any questions. The only one usually raised is whether or not "A"s have to use the three words that "B"s used to start the story. The answer is "No". The words only have to be used by "B"s in the first 30 seconds of the first part of the story.
Once questions have been answered , begin the exercise. Give one minute for "B"s to get started and then blow the whistle. Then give one minute for "A"s to get focused. Blow the whistle.
Give 30 seconds to "B"s. Blow the whistle.
Give 30 seconds to "A"s. Blow the whistle.
Give 15 seconds to "B"s. Blow the whistle.
Give 15 seconds to "A"s. End the exercise by blowing the whistle three times.
S eminar L eader's N otes : Before debriefing the listening exercise, it's fun to ask one of the pairs who seem to be laughing the hardest how the partners used those three words. It's okay to mention that this is also an exercise in creativity!
After ending the stories, ask trainees how they could possibly have heard one another with all the noise in the room and everyone talking simultaneously . Someone will most likely say, "Because we were focused". Ask what they physically did to achieve that focus. The answers will be things like "lots of eye contact, leaning forward, being in the moment by smiling, nodding, and non-verbally acknowledging what was being said".
Tell them that's what it feels like to actively listen to someone. Explain that listening is not a passive exercise but one that demands all our attention. Suggest that these nonverbal activities facilitate focus on what is being said. Explain that each of us has the power to shut out all distractions and hear what is being said, if we choose to, but it is just as easy to go on a mental vacation to Tahiti if we let ourselves . Ask how it felt to have someone really there for them when they were talking. Tell them to remember how it felt, viscerally, during this exercise to really listen and be listened to. Encourage discussion.
If there is an uneven number of people in the room, ask for a volunteer to help the leader. Once the storytelling has started, ask the volunteer to walk around the room and take notes on what he or she sees that would indicate that people are really listening to one another. Then ask the volunteer to be part of the debrief by reading the list aloud to the whole group of trainees.
Although this is a simple exercise, there are many opportunities to use it powerfully. Depending on the three words chosen, some of the stories can be hilarious, and there is always a lot of laughter and energy. I sometimes ask for volunteers to share their stories, and it's always amazing how they got from the three words to the ending.
The Krohne Connection
1224 10th Street, Suite 209
Coronado, CA 92118
A retired Navy Commander, DR. KAY KROHNE is President of her own company called The Krohne Connection, which conducts leadership and teambuilding seminars, provides expertise and training in the area of sexual harassment and discrimination, and provides one-on-one executive coaching services. Her twenty years as a naval officer, including tours as a Commanding and Executive Officer, provided her with hands-on leadership experience that she now uses to help today's managers cope with their own leadership challenges.
Chosen as the first American woman to attend the Royal Navy Staff College, Dr. Krohne has had numerous one-of-a-kind opportunities as a naval leader. For the past ten years, Dr. Krohne has been a feedback coach for the Center for Creative Leadership. Her consulting clients include Sea World, Dell Computers, the FBI, the Department of the Navy, City and County of San Diego, Mission Federal Credit Union, Copley Newspapers, Aetna Health, Solar Turbines, Cascade Natural Gas, Con-Way Transportation, University of San Diego, and Auckland University. Since retiring from the Navy, she completed her doctorate in the field of leadership from the University of San Diego, building on an MBA from Southern Illinois University and her BA in speech communication from The George Washington University.
Kay Krohne has taught these AMA seminars:
Leadership Skills and Team Development for Technical Professionals
Developing Executive Leadership
Coaching: A Strategic Tool for Effective Leadership
Fundamentals of Business Strategy
Leadership and Team Development for Managerial Success
Preparing for Leadership: What It Takes to Take the Lead