Monday, 17 May 2010

Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn

When conducting a lessons capture session (what Nancy Dixon calls “sense-making”) it can be a good idea to bring along others who can immediately reuse the learning. This give the meeting a focus and purpose. You can ask “what would you advise Peter and Jenny to do on their project?

The problem comes when Peter and Jenny feel it is their role to solve the problems of the past. “Oh you shouldn’t have done it like that!” they say. “Why did you make that decision? I would have done this instead?” Commentary becomes critique, and the project team become defensive, and start to clam up.

The thing is, we hire people for their problem solving capability, but in situations like this, when they are guests and recipients in a sense-making session, problem solving has to be put to one side. The focus is listening and learning. I brief them first and say “your role is to listen for learning, to ask clarification questions, and to make sure you fully understand what they did, what they learned, and what you need to learn and do differently as a result. You are not there to judge or critique or audit, but to listen and learn”.

This need not be passive listening – they can ask as many clarification questions as they need – but it is a listening and learning role, and sometimes we need to help people learn how to listen, before they can listen how to learn.

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