Leadership | Merit Career Development Blog

Why Active Listening Makes You Better at Your Job

Why Active Listening Makes You Better at Your JobWhether you’ve considered this or not, effective listening is a skill, and an extremely important one at that.

Did you know that…
  • Listening has been cited as a critical employment skill more frequently than any other skill?
  • Co-workers and customers evaluate our communication abilities based, in part, on how well they think we listen?
  • Listening skills are considered a good predictor of who receives promotions and other similar awards?

When it comes to managing projects, poor communications can result in increased project scope, the loss of multimillion dollar sales, and costly lawsuits. Since effective communication is grounded in the ability to listen effectively, perfecting this skill is well worth the effort.

When people interact in business and in their personal life, they interpret and infer meaning from a combination of verbal and non-verbal cues, as well as life experiences. Often the objective in communications is to enlarge the listener’s knowledge, perspective, and sensitivity that impact their beliefs. The listening skills of both parties are critical for this to be successful.

Academic research has identified two types of opposite styles of communications styles: Transmission-Centered Communications and Meaning-Centered Communications. Although people lean towards one style over the other, most people use both techniques depending upon the situation.

Transmission-Centered ListeningThose who rely mostly on transmission-centered communications, send a message to receivers without assuring that the meaning is understood. Whereas those who are typically meaning-centered communicators spend the extra time and take the extra effort to determine the receiver’s level of understanding of the intended message.

Meaning-Centered CommunicationA meaning-centered view acknowledges that both parties during an interaction are simultaneously senders and receivers of the messages. They likely use multiple channels including nonverbal, paralinguistic (i.e., specific gestures, sounds, and intonations that occur alongside language), and contextual cues that contribute to the meaning associated with communication. Everything in a communication event is open to interpretation by those involved in the creation of meaning.

Meaning-Centered Communication

Transmission and meaning-centered communication are not opposing perspectives at the ends of a single continuum, but reflect different assumptions about the purpose and goals of communication. A transmission-orientation focuses on sending messages in order to influence a receiver; a meaning-centered orientation focuses on the shared meaning that paves the way for relationships.

A meaning-centered communication orientation describes an individual’s propensity to approach communication from the transactional, constructivist perspective — meaning is created during the exchange.

A transmission-centered communication orientation describes a person’s preference to approach communication from a more literal perspective focused on sending messages.

In particular, some people frequently communicate from a constructivist understanding, whereas other people more often communicate as if they can transmit knowledge to others. A meaning-centric communicator realizes that 100% understanding between people is improbable, and approaches each interaction accordingly. People engage in communication in a way that reflects their perspective on the communication process.

What is your communication orientation? To find out, take Merit Career Development's FREE Listening Skills Assessment. This assessment takes less than an hour. Upon completing, you will receive an explanatory report along with tips and techniques that you can use to become a more meaning-centered communicator. Greater success in the workplace awaits you.

PMPs: This assessment qualifies for one PDU and you will receive a certificate.

Optimizing ROI in Sales Force Training Programs

Sales PresentationA CFO, nervous about the cost of sales training, argues with the CEO. “What if we pay for all this training and these employees leave?” the CFO asks. The CEO replies, “What if we don’t pay for the training and they stay?”

Although the story from Peter Baeklund illustrates an old business witticism, when it comes to optimizing sales performance, effective training with significant return on investment is the key to success. For the company to see true ROI, the tools and skills learned in the classroom need to be transferred into the work environment where employees can use them to make the sales.

Taking the Right Steps


Donald Kirkpatrick, former president of the American Society for Training and Development, first published his Four-Level Training Evaluation Model in the Training and Development Journal in 1959. It was subsequently updated twice, once in 1975 and again in 1994 when he published one of his most well-known pieces, “Evaluating Training Programs.” Since then, his works have guided effective training exercises in the corporate environment. Kirkpatrick’s lessons involve four essential levels of evaluations:

  • Reaction: Capturing participants’ satisfaction with the experience immediately following training, gauging initial thoughts and feelings about the program
  • Learning: Measuring the increase in knowledge of skills as a result of training
  • Behavior: Assessing retention and whether participants can apply what they have learned in the workplace
  • Results: Addressing changes in performance and how the improvements have benefited the organization.

With today’s fast-paced and changing economy, the old guard methods of learning and development have become obsolete. Feedback forms don’t tell us if the training has been effectively retained. The real ROI is what happens when employees are back on the job – three months, six months and a year down the line. Learning, behavior and retention must be measured by then.

The sales force is integral to a company’s success and requires extensive training to adequately market its products and services. Sales employees must have a variety of selling techniques under their belts. For example, selling to a CFO or other C-level executive requires a significantly different approach than selling to an entry-level purchaser.

Current training modules need to reflect these differences. The challenge is helping sales professionals communicate clearly and effectively with high-level executives, cutting out technical jargon that can get in the way and listening to the client’s needs. More advanced and updated forms of training are needed to bolster the performance of the sales team, which in turn could result in an improved bottom line.

Achieving multi-million dollar success


A world-renowned international technology company hired Merit Career Development to improve the skills of its sales force. Merit’s powerful training techniques and tools enabled the employees to close a deal worth millions of dollars in transactions within six months of completing the course. The financial impact was huge as they earned a substantial amount of profits for the company.

Much of the training entailed developing pitches and proposals targeted to high-level executives without the need for convoluted vocabularies. Simplifying the language allows a pitch to appeal to multiple audiences and makes the information accessible to a large range of potential buyers. The program is now used around the world for hundreds of participants per year.

With its fully customizable courses that can be tailor-made to fit any business, Merit ensures that their clients receive the highest possible ROI on sales programs. To learn more, review Merit’s course list or contact Merit today.

Minimizing Communication Breakdowns in Project Management

Business Team Coaching Prevent communication breakdowns from derailing or delaying project management efforts. To do this, focus on the three specific areas that are responsible for the majority of miscommunications in project management.

Successful project management cannot be achieved when team members do not understand or retain material being presented. Project managers face their greatest challenges when dealing with poorly defined requirements and communication. When critical information gets misconstrued during the course of an assignment, significant errors can occur. If found too late, these can result in diminishing productivity, wasting resources and very expensive mistakes that are difficult to correct.

To ensure that project management requirements are met in the initiation and development phases, effective communication techniques are needed.

Managers may face three distinct types of problems during the course of a project: offsets in experience, English as a second language environments and varying employee backgrounds.

1. Experience Offset


Communication difficulties can arise when the project’s participants have varying levels and types of experience relevant to the business world. Entry-level employees may experience challenges when working alongside senior leadership executives and high-ranking associates. And vice versa.

“Communication is more than just the transmission of messages, words and ideas; it embodies the creation of meaning between individuals,” says John Juzbasich, CEO of Merit Career Development. “To do that we rely upon our experience to create and construct meaning from the words we hear.”

Often, new employees and veterans engage in conversations that appear beneficial and productive initially, but they may walk away with different understandings of what transpired.

What to do. Leaders should assess - and address - this risk upfront during the planning stage of the project. Finding ways to cross-train team members ensures that information is being delivered adequately and concisely throughout the assignment.

2. ESL environments


Every project management team can encounter English-skill level discrepancies, especially within companies working in a global environment. When employees are unable to understand one another at a basic level, communication becomes futile.

What to do. Rather than attempt to navigate vocal challenges, leaders should utilize chat technologies that allow for translations. This can facilitate ESL environments and prevent any breakdowns in communications that might interfere with the success of the project.

3. Varying backgrounds


Some of the biggest communication problems arise when team members are trained in different areas of the business. This happens frequently when cross-functional teams are tasked with company-wide initiatives and represent IT, HR, Finance and Customer Relations, for example. Employees within these different niches may struggle to communicate, since they may have language or jargon that is unique to their work.

Project managers have to be sure that nothing gets lost in translation between disparate functions. They must seek to understand the meaning of the communications presented by each team member and develop effective language skills that will be understood and relevant to all.

What to do. Kick-off the team initiatives on the right foot by providing insight into the objectives, backgrounds and contributions made by each area represented. Visuals may help clarify this important step in the communication process.

Other Important Tips to Assure Better Communications


Through techniques such as open-ended and clarifying questions, restatement, reflecting and paraphrasing the project manager’s instructions, team members can develop a clear understanding of the message and project requirements.

The end-users should be the focal point of the message, not the sender. The manager should be looking at the big picture in addition to the minute details. Too many project leaders put communication at the bottom of their priorities, which can lead to short messages that are difficult to interpret.

Merit Career Development provides a range of project management workshops that are managed by experts to yield the greatest results possible. Each one delves into its specific topics with in-depth tools and techniques to ensure that communication flows freely between participants. Every workshop can also be customized to meet the training needs of companies and tailored to specific environments. Review a course list or contact Merit to speak with a professional today.

Overcome Training Obstacles in the Virtual Workplace

Communicating with your virtual team In today's age of electronic interaction, new technologies can be mechanisms for better leadership and training - or they can create serious obstacles.

The Digital Age has given rise to numerous information technologies that have had both positive and negative effects on leadership. Because of this, there has been a fundamental change in the relationship between business leaders and their followers - both employees and clients.

The original dynamic of the leader-follower connection has been forever altered by the advent of communication technologies, according to John Juzbasich, CEO of Merit Career Development. As a result, leaders face different challenges when conducting training in the virtual workplace...mainly fluid communication.

The Challenge of Communication

In today's age of electronic interaction, new technologies are mechanisms for leadership and management. Social platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn can reduce the remoteness of followers and allow for more instantaneous communication, but they can lead to breakdowns in communications as well. Although oratory interaction can convey a clearer, message, between 60 and 80 percent of communications are non-verbal, Juzbasich explained.

When the voice is taken out of the equation, all that is left are words on a screen. At this point, messages can become misinterpreted, which is one of the biggest challenges in leading in the Digital Age. Because of this, leaders have to be more cognizant of how they speak and present themselves.

In order to avoid being misunderstood, Juzbasich suggests utilizing video technology to both communicate on a daily basis, and to create effective training. Video not only leverages digital technology in a popular way that people relate to, but it regains the visual and audio components of conversation.

Leading in the Digital Age

Juzbasich recently represented Merit at Penn State Great Valley on a panel that discussed e-leadership with other leading industry experts called "Leading in the Digital Age: Are You Connected For Success?" The event featured insight into cutting-edge research and best practices for leveraging rising technologies to be an effective leader in today’s business environment. Topics ranged from using avatars and emotion-reading technologies to advanced uses of social media. "We have come a long way over the past decade in understanding what works and what does not in a virtual teaching/learning environment. It is critical to redesign training to take advantage of today’s technologies and educational research on Best Practices," Juzbasich added.

Merit Career Development offers a wide array of learning methodologies that enhance professional education in today’s virtual workplace, including Virtual Instructor-Led Training, online self-paced courses, webinars and web-based assessment tools. To learn more about what Merit can do to enhance your leadership and employee training, please contact us.

Improve Your Decision-Making, Improve Your Leadership

Decision-Making Did you know that we make about 35,000 decisions a day? Learn about the many factors, conscious and sub-conscious, that affect our choices, and how we can control the ones that will help us make the best decisions.

The brain is a powerful machine constantly working behind the scenes, absorbing and dissecting information at an unimaginable rate. Without even realizing it, most people make thousands of decisions every day, from choosing a snack to making swift decisions while driving. Of course, there are the tougher decisions that we really contemplate, too.

Making the best decision is critical to success in most fields and disciplines. Our lack of understanding of how our minds work has profound consequences. Modern psychologists are studying the processes in our complex and sophisticated brain and have identified common errors in thinking, shortcuts used in the decision-making process, and cognitive biases that influence our decisions without our knowledge.

We know that good decision-making is critical to business success and will impact the bottom line. Daniel Kahneman, PhD, a Nobel-prize winning psychologist and author, explains how the brain functions in making decisions. In his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” he breaks down the decision-making process into two systems: System 1 and System 2.

System 1 works quickly and deals with automatic, unconscious thinking, such as finishing thoughts and sentences. It’s deeply rooted in our intuition and emotional mechanism. System 2 works more slowly, focusing on logic and problem solving. It is associated with deliberative thinking and complex computations, while System 1 is more reactive and creates impressions and feelings. Leveraging these two aspects of decision-making can be enormously beneficial.

One of the most significant of the biases that affect our decisions Kahneman calls “pervasive optimistic bias” which gives us the feeling of having control. That is also referred to as "illusion of control," the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events in their lives. Other biases that need to be understood and considered include: "framing", where familiar numbers form the context for our decisions, although there may not be any reason for them to be relevant or accurate, and "loss aversion," a tendency to fear losses more than value gains.

Professional Assistance and Career Development

At Merit Career Development, we stay on top of the latest proven research and integrate these findings into our unique and engaging programs. As a result, participants can learn about many different features that are integral to the decision-making process. We help our clients understand how the two primary systems generate actions for quick thinking and more thought-requiring decisions.

Participants in our "Better Decision Making" program will learn about traps like biases and blind spots that can unconsciously and negatively affect best decision-making practices. Merit teaches the tools to develop effective listening techniques and how to adapt and apply this knowledge to different types of situations.

Like most Merit programs, this highly engaging and interactive workshop is ideal for optimizing learning retention of valuable information. Numerous rational tools and practical techniques ensure that the lessons taught will be carried over into real-life workplace scenarios.

Interested leaders can review the course outline for Merit's "Strategic Thinking and Decision-Making" to discover why it is the one-stop for dynamic workforce training.

Optimize Your Training by Engaging Your Employees More Effectively

Senior Executives can commit vast resources and money to manage their employees, but if the staff does not feel valued or engaged in the business, it's likely that the desired results may not be achieved.

Improve Employee Engagement with Training and Professional Education According to a study from Gallup Inc, titled "The State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders", effectively engaging and retaining employees is one of the biggest challenges that leaders can face. Over a three-year period, from 2010 to 2012, the research firm surveyed more than 350,000 respondents, Forbes magazine reports.

The findings indicated that 70 percent of American workers are "not engaged" and are disconnected from the workplace, which in turn can make them less productive. This lack of engagement can be significantly detrimental to business profits. Gallup estimated that disengaged employees can cost companies between $450 and $550 billion per year in lost productivity. These employees can also negatively influence their fellow employees, drive clients away and miss workdays completely.

With only 30 percent of employees working at their optimal potential, leaders need to begin improving their engagement strategies to retain staff and bolster their productivity as a business.

Trickle-down Engagement
Rather than focus strictly on lower levels of the organization, Gallup suggest that management leaders center their efforts at the top and have it disseminated throughout the company. As mid-level managers and employees feel empowered, they can begin to identify barriers to effective engagement and help develop methods for organizational improvement. Staff members can be the most knowledgeable when it comes to the company's processes and clients, which might result in better performance when given the right tools for the job.

The training process can be an area where leaders engage their employees directly for the betterment of the company, according to Training magazine. Merit Career Development offers a range of teaching techniques that engage employees and increase learning retention. To learn more contact us by phone, 610-225-0193 or send us an email.

Customer Conversations

A two-step learning experience to boost listening skills.


Customer Conversations What do you do when your own field technicians cant' seem to communicate effectively with your customers? That was the challenge faced by a large global technology company who came to Merit Career Development with a solution.

The answer was a two-step process: measure employees' listening skills and follow-up with a two-hour webinar reinforcing the key aspects of listening and interacting with customers.

The goal: empower field technical personnel to manage client conversations to ensure accurate communications and to create satisfied customers.

Measuring
We first asked employees to complete a simple assessment to gauge their listening skills. The Listening Skills Assessment (LiSA™) measures three related aspects of listening: understanding the overall situation, attention to detail, and inferring personal interpretation.

Students watch realistic technology-related video scenarios and answer questions about the big picture, details about the situation and what they think was really going on in the example. It's interactive and fun.

Before the webinar, students receive the results of their listening assessment. This establishes the baseline for the training session, the focus of which reinforces the key aspects of listening measured by the assessment.

Learning
The goal of the two-hour interactive webinar is to increase students' self-awareness of their verbal and written communication styles as they work with customers. But it's more than that. How can employees show they are really attending to the customer and want to leave both sides of the interaction satisfied?

Students learn how to observe non-verbal communication cues and follow-up on them, strengthening the customer relationship by showing good, attention skills. Important listening skills like asking open-ended questions, reflecting back to the speaker, paraphrasing and summarizing help the individual obtain accurate information from the customer and make sure the employee is getting the real message.

And the webinar covers more than just verbal communication skills. It also highlights effective electronic communications. Students learn how to create effective and appropriate electronic messages, write messages that are clear, concise, coherent, and project a positive voice image. These are all crucial communication skills in today's business environment.

In the end, participants leave the course being more self-aware and carrying some new tools to use in effective customer communication.

To learn more about how Merit Career Development can solve your business challenges, please contact us.

Learning Through Play Enhances Employee Engagement

Chess BoardThrough gaming and play, employees can experience positive emotions that enhance their learning retention rates.

Regardless of age or experiences, we all play games in some way or another. But games aren't just about play; they educate. From smartphone puzzle-oriented hits like Candy Crush Saga to games of "peekaboo", in which infants learn object permanence, games and learning have gone hand-in-hand for thousands of years. So what happens when you take learning through play and apply it to online training courses?

Beyond Childhood Games

According to many historians, the adoption of a "game" called Kriegsspiel by the Prussian officer corps was instrumental in Prussia beating France in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Derived form the German word meaning "war play", Kriegsspiel was designed as a training system for Prussian military officers in 1812. War and simulation have a much older history thourgh: Chess, one of the oldest games still in existence, was used throughout the Middle Ages and the Reniassance to teach noblemen war strategies. Battle tactics were part of their jobs, and the most efficient training was often through play. The famous back-and-forth nature of a "Socratic" dialogue has parallels in tennis, fencing and other sparring games.

Today, thanks to the technological advancements in smartphones and other mobile devices, almost everyone has become a "gamer". The term might carry a stigma with business professionals, but used as part of an effective training regimen, games can make a huge impact on employee retention and performance.

Empowering Employees Through Play

Game designer and author Jane McGonigal has found that play can create a sense of hope and empowerment. According to her research, gaming produces and heightens positive emotions when individuals are participating and feel engaged. Emotions are one of the most effective tools training instructors can leverage. The late Jim Spaulding, technical instructor at Merit Career Development, believed that evoking emotions from students is essential to improving learning retention and employee engagement.

According to a recent Gallup poll, the 87 percent of workers who currently feel disengaged at their jobs could potentially cost companies trillions of dollars in lost productivity. Play might be the key to changing these attitudes and re-engaging employees.

McGonigal feels that gaming can create behavioral changes that lead to better performances from employees. Her research found that two areas of the brain "light up" when a person is actively engaged in gaming: the caudate and the thalamus, the goal-oriented rewards center of the brain, and the hippocampus, where learning and memory reside. These two parts of the brain are the lynch pins of retention, marrying motivation and memorization through emotional response and other stimuli.

Employees can only improve their skills if they're engaged and attentive during training. By designing courses where learning happens through play - rather than drilling information through presentations - senior leaders can ensure that their associates are gleaning the most meaningful lessons possible through training.

Review a course list or contact Merit today for more information

From Fear to Fantastic... Insights and Experience to Manage the Impression You Make on Camera!

When he reward for your hard work turns into a terrifying "opportunity" to be video recorded, you could get derailed worrying about the impression you're going to make and your credibility.
How to be Your Best on CameraWith the boom in YouTube's popularity and marketing importance, and the continued growth in consumers preferring to keep up by watching over reading, your skill on camera is more critical than ever. Research has proven that learner retention from video is significantly higher than from text. Here are some stats on video that you should know:

  • Learner retention1: 65% video vs. 10%-20% text
  • People are 75% more likely
    to watch2 a video than read an email
  • Visual are processed 60,000 times faster3 in the brain than text.
If you are asked to speak to a reporter, tv news crew, or anyone with a video camera, you can make or break the impact of your message without event knowing it. Your appearance, behavior, and subconscious actions can conflict or undermine your spoken word. Whether you're representing your industry, company, department, or your own experience, we're sure you want the message to be accurate and meaningful.
Barbara T. Radler, Presenter - BTK Communications Group
Barbara T. Radler, Presenter - BTK Communications Group

At Merit Career Development, we recognized the need to offer these insights to our clients and teamed up with BTK Communications, a recognized leader in video production to create this workshop for you. Barbara T. Radler, the founder and CEO of BTK Communications, has been helping professionals be their best on camera for almost 3 decades. She and her team worked with us to create this experiential program that will be held in a studio-like setting with a professional director, camera crew and teleprompter operator. Participation in this program will change your professional trajectory forever!

During the workshop, participants will learn, in detail, insider tricks and tips from preparing to be on-camera, day-of on-camera production, and post-production impact. Specifically, you will learn through experience:

  1. The impact of sleep and alcohol on being your best on camera
  2. How to impact the impression you make with your clothing and color choices, hair style, make-up, and more
  3. Engaging the viewer with body language, eye focus, and specific mannerisms
  4. How to vary your voice's tone, pace, and volume to control the points of emphasis
  5. How your posture and gestures impact the spoken message (what to do and what NOT to do)
  6. When and how to use Silence
  7. Production and post-production tips
Where else are you going to learn these important insights and have the opportunity to apply them immediately with a camera crew and teleprompter operator?
As you may have learned in your youth, you can never get a second chance to make a first impression, so you want to give this your best effort. To bring this important training experience to your leaders and influencers, contact Jim Wynne at (610) 225-0193 or at jwynne@meritcd.com.

Sources:
  1. https://www.ragan.com/infographic-why-visual-content-is-better-than-text/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2017/02/03/video-marketing-the-future-of-content-marketing/?sh=5d2d66e96b53
  3. Forrester Research https://www.panopto.com/blog/answer-transparency-isnt-town-halls-technology/

What is and Why Do You Want Adaptive e-Learning?

What if you could reduce your training costs by up to 40% while increasing employee engagement and retention by up to 60%? Would you be interested in learning more?

While you're probably familiar with "e-learning", you may not know as much about Adaptive eLearning. What's so important about Adaptive eLearning? This is personalized instruction that adapts to and builds upon the employee's existing knowledge. It by-passes redundant (and boring) review periods found in most e-learning courses that are designed for the masses.

The goal of any great training program is to engage the learner and to teach them things they don't know by linking it to things they do know.

Adaptive eLearning is based on discoveries in the last 10 plus years of cognitive neuro-science. It recognizes that every person is unique, has had different experiences, and therefore different levels of knowledge on various topics. Instead of trying to teach everyone the same content, Adaptive eLearning takes advantage of this disparity in two distinct ways:

  • It tests a person's level of knowledge, and, more importantly, their confidence in that knowledge. By doing so, it recognizes each person's knowledge and how comfortable they are with it.

  • IF a person knows the knowledge and is confident in that knowledge: no further training in this area is required.

The second point highlights the question, why spend time training and boring people on stuff they know? They should be trained on stuff they don't know! The graph below is illuminating. Many people are confident in their knowledge but may not be competent or proficient in that subject. The green lines indicate a person's knowledge level, whereas the red lines indicate missing knowledge areas. The yellow lines indicate their confidence in that knowledge area. As you can see: many people may be confident in their knowledge, but may not actually be competent.

Confidence vs Competence Tornado Chart

Adaptive eLearning recognizes this disparity and responds appropriately to each person by training the individual learner exactly what they need to know!

The Benefits of Adaptive eLearning:

For Your Business
  • Improved employee productivity
  • Higher employee engagement
  • Measurable capability and capacity (Lower unconscious incompetence), see chart above.

For the Learner:
  • Faster time to proficiency
  • Eliminate frustration of unnecessary training
  • High self-awareness of strengths and development areas
  • Enhanced and personalized learning experience

For the Training and/or Human Resources Department:
  • Measurable outcomes
  • Real-time quality feedback
  • Real-time content updates
  • Improved teaching effectiveness
  • Elimination of the "one-size-fits-none"

Merit Career Development has partnered with the leader in adaptive eLearning, Area 9, to deliver world-class training in the most efficient manner possible and provide our clients with more delivery options than ever. For more information, contact Merit Career Development today. We'll help you achieve the best training program you've ever had, with a lower expense and higher learning retention rate. Contact Merit Career Development today to learn more.