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The New World of Today’s Student

The New World of Today’s Student

When I think back over a lifetime of learning, I realize that there were certain times I was a great student, and others in which I was just going through the motions, reaping relatively little from the effort.

My schooling was a period of time when I learned pretty intensively because that was simply the overall expectation, and without work or age as conflicting contenders for my attentions, learning in school was about all I did. Then, I remember learning in such a rapid-fire, open minded and near-gullible way in the early years of my work career because I was an open book, still without the “I’m experienced now” baggage or “our way” loyalties that can get in the way at times. Most recently, and amazing to me almost daily, has been within the past few years, where a developing entrepreneurial mindset and the creation of Managing With Aloha (both my book and coaching curriculum) has continually challenged me to make any and all learning near instantaneously applicable.

Today, my awareness of web-based communications and the open-source software playground has been like a breach in the dam, with the learning deluge sweeping me away on a different current with virtually every new web page I visit. I no longer have to entice myself to learn, my effort is to filter those enticements so I make the best choices on the menu! Learning is a given, the only question is my diligence and focus in keeping it sequential and consequential.

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“ … Sequential in that it builds upon previous lessons-learned, and it takes you through a process where you question instruction and do not always accept what you are taught at face value; you polish it like a gem in your mind until something about it rings true for you. Consequential in that it is worthwhile stuff; it makes a difference for you, and you aren’t simply collecting lessons on some scorecard. There’s some personal take-away in it for you. Now that you know it, you’re going to use it.”
Managing with Aloha

Why learn at all?

I think you instinctively know the answer to that. Learning fuels our capacity for growth. We learn when we need new skills, when we want more knowledge, and when we begin to seek mastery and wisdom. When you gain more knowledge you have more confidence, and that confidence can serve to liberate you toward releasing a creative spirit you may not even have realized you possessed. You constantly give birth to new possibilities in this creative process; you create your own destiny, one of choice and not fate or pure dumb luck.

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There have been certain times in my life I have learned best because of how the stage was set for it. I mentioned my early work career as a turbo-charger up the learning curve, and after over thirty years in the corporate workplace, I discovered that there is nothing like self-employment for making an adult student learning-obsessed again. To a business owner, knowledge is the asset of intellectual capital—and everyone you work with has some to be mined like the gemstones they are.

Today I have to look for great teachers; they won’t be handed to me. Hindsight has been 20-20, and in my case, older was wiser. One of the most exciting things about the work I now do with virtual communities is in the discovery of how biological age has melted down to irrelevance when it comes to our online classrooms. Those of you reading this whom are younger, and those much younger than I, will truly have the world as your oyster, reaping benefits far greater in magnitude than known in previous generations.

Today’s Best Action Step

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Take the time to reflect, and see if you can determine exactly how you learn best:
This is a quick exercise; write down your answers so you can always look back at them.

  • When you look back on your own stages of learning, what were the triggers for you? What made the difference?
  • Who made the difference? Beyond their names, why? What kind of teacher got the best out of you?
  • What could you learn right now, that you are certain would translate into knowledge you could instantly apply and use?

The exercise is a useful one for you so that you can deliberately invoke those triggers, and replicate those best-set stages.

Those who know me best, have repeatedly heard me say that this is a New World of Learning. My current focus has been the workplace, and most recently the traditional (i.e. stuck) school, and one of my favorite learning tools, given as gifts to the employers not yet using them, is the blogging platform as all-user friendly intranets versus their static incarnations as HR bulletin boards only the IT guy could post to. Online collaboration tools like virtual project management sites open eyes with teamwork like never before. These ARE gifts. We’ll talk about this more next Thursday when I visit you again.

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Part two of this discussion will be called My Employer, My Teacher. Meanwhile, if you think you have an employer who is a great teacher, please share your story in the comments, as I will continue to edit my draft over the next week’s time —you can help all of us learn more about the best practices now in the workplace.


Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business and the Talking Story blog. She is the founder of Say Leadership Coaching, a company dedicated to bringing nobility to the working arts of management and leadership. Her most recent online collaboration effort is JJLN: the Joyful Jubilant Learning Network.
For more of Rosa’s ideas, click to her Thursday columns in the archives; you’ll find her index in the left column of www.ManagingWithAloha.com Rosa’s Previous Thursday Column was: Milking it whole, not skim.

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Rosa Say

Rosa is an author and blogger who dedicates to helping people thrive in the work and live with purpose.

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

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