The single most important skill of a learning professional

If you look at any job description for any learning and development job, you’ll find a whole lot of items listed under required skills and experience. Instructional design. The ability to be a dynamic presenter. Technical savvy with common software such as PowerPoint. Creativity (which is more of a trait than a skill or experience).

I’ve recorded 66 podcast interviews and I’ve been a little surprised at the trait I hear come up most often, including something that was mentioned by next Monday’s guest (Spencer Wixom will be talking about sales training and the Challenger Sale model).

The ability to listen.

It was mentioned often by Dialogue Education pioneer Jane Vella during our conversation. It was mentioned again today during a conversation I had with Learning Life podcast host and uber-successful entrepreneur Jon Tota (whose podcast episode will be posted on June 14). And it makes sense.

How do we know whether training is actually the answer if we’re not listening to the person who asked for a training program?

How do we know what our learners’ needs are if we’re not listening to them before and during a session (as well as during break times)? How do we know if we can go through our content faster or if we need to spend more time in a specific area? How do we know what should be adjusted once a training program begins?

I’m going to keep today’s post short because I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter and see if we can *listen* to some of the other blog readers.

What do you think? Do you agree? Why? And if listening isn’t the most important trait for a learning professional, what do you think is? Drop some thoughts into the comment section!


On a totally different topic, I’d like to wish my mother a happy birthday on Saturday. She turns 29 (again). And she reads every blog post I write. Thanks mom. Happy (early) birthday!

12 thoughts on “The single most important skill of a learning professional

  1. I agree! Listening to the actual words, in between the lines and body language is also very important. We are all co leaners and we learn to work with each other by observing and listening to each other. That way we can fully empathize with each other too.

    • I think the idea of listening, not just to words but also what’s not said and a participant’s body language, are important aspects to point out. Listening is more than hearing what someone *says*.

  2. I also agree that listening is one of the most important skills and add “perspective taking’. As a presenter I have found the value in reflecting before, during and after my sessions. This helps me to take a step aside to ask why do I perceive the way I do, why do others perceive the way they do, and stay curious with more open ended questions. There is meaning behind all points of view, nuances and behaviors, I just need to be vulnerable enough to listen with my eyes and ears.. Once I have a deeper understanding of myself and others, I can then meet my audience’s needs with better attunement to better serve and be completely present.

    • Reflection and humility are definitely key. It’s one thing to listen… it’s another thing to truly think about what you heard/observed and to do something about it.

  3. I whole heartedly agree, for so many reasons. I think it builds connection to others, humans have a need to “be seen” and understood. People often say “you get me” to those they connect with. I think people are more open to learning from those they connect to and trust.

    As mentioned, listening allows trainers to guide the conversation to best serve what the participants are seeking. Listening helps one to stay present in the moment, instead of lost in ticking off their points or stuck in one’s own agenda.

    Some of my best presentations are those in which the participants guide the conversation, all points tend to come out in the collective of thought from the group and I become the facilitator for the learning.

    • I love how you’ve framed this. I often talk about the need to take on the role of a *facilitator* moreso than a “trainer”. Of course, there will be times when technical information needs to be taught and there’s not as much facilitation involved, but at the end of the day, even if there is heavy technical content, we still need to listen to make sure our learners’ needs are being met.

  4. I think a willingness to learn from and along with your participants is important, and that definately requires using active listening skills.
    Happy Birthday to your Mom, Brian!

    • After I wrote this post, I posted something similar on LinkedIn and several people suggested “humility” as the top trait for a learning professional, which I think is what you’re getting at a bit with “a willingness to learn from and along with your participants”. Honestly, there’s probably not one top most important trait, but I think you’ve hit upon several important ones! (And my mom reads every blog post, so I’m sure she’ll see your birthday wishes!)

  5. I’ve never really thought I was a particularly talented training professional. If there’s one trait that keeps me from being bad, it’s my focus on trying to be a good listener. It’s very difficult and takes practice. I agree Brian – it should be at the top of the list. Participants, teammates, friends, relatives can feel left out if they’re not heard.

    • Having seen you in action, I think there are a number of traits that keep you from being bad (and actually make you quite effective) while you train such as keeping a calm demeanor, going with the flow and insisting that your vendor include page numbers in all the manuals (!!!). And yes, I think your ability to listen to the learners is right there at the top. It’s super difficult to address anyone’s questions or concerns if you’re not able to listen for what they’re really asking about.

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