Over the course of six months, some of our employees, our Youwels, have been involved in a very special program. The Explore Learning Track aims to teach active listening skills, while also daring participants to speak out with confidence. Together, these skills embody Youwe’s culture of being confident, bold and inclusive.
The Explore Learning Track combines in-person classes, online learning, self-development, mentoring and interactive sessions. Universally, the participants said the program helped them more than they expected. They did not just learn skills but their ability to communicate was fully transformed. Interviewed here are four developers. At the time, the program was open only to developers but has since expanded to include most Youwe personnel.
At first, Inan Ecevit said he didn’t think he needed to improve his communication. It was a bit surprised he was in the program. He’s quite a confident and extraverted person who gets along with people and with product owners. The program helped him identify that he could improve his communication skills more than he thought.
He says participating in the program’s active listening demos gave him the hands-on practice he needed. Inan came to realise he actually hadn’t been listening to others enough. Probably this is something many can relate to. You think you know what someone’s going to say and then you start thinking about what you are going to say next, all the while not taking in what they are saying at all.
Before the program, he says he had a problem getting angry and frustrated when people failed to communicate clearly and efficiently. Active listening helps him stay calm. He would spend more time getting frustrated with his peers, rather than just breaking down and clarifying the information. Inan says the course helped him clear his prejudgments and that he applies this approach everywhere now in his life.
Erfan Ghezelbash expressed something similar. He came to the program wanting to improve his communication with external clients. Erfan struggled dealing with strangers in high pressure situations. But, like Inan, he says the program taught him a lot more than just that.
The focus on empathy and active listening improved his relationships overall, including with the colleagues he already knew well. He says the program, and how it empowered him, is why he was promoted as the new Circle Lead of his team.
Erfan: All the sessions helped us to understand better and better about ourselves, about the other side that we're dealing with. It changed our perspective somehow. I don't know how to explain this. It was just a 5 1/2 month course. But, overall, these meetings helped me to change my view and improve myself.
Pavel Shiriaev says he used to push his ideas on others. He now finds it’s really good to listen to others very carefully and says that’s very useful. He learned you can get more information if you listen more closely and that gives him a greater sense of self-reflection and awareness. This helps with “complex situations”, like dealing with clients.
He says that his communication with team members was always good, but the program helped him control the tempo of the conversation in situations where it can escalate. He notes that active listening is just one of the tools the program gave him. The colour system, which breaks different personality types into a colour wheel, also helps him identify himself and understand other people. He says that these changes also helped him reduce his stress.
Pavel: I learned during the program something that changed my mind and my approach to work. It gave me some opportunities to see from a different angle and in general, yes, I've got more than I expected, to be honest.
Of these four developers, Erik Poolman is a bit different. He said he was already good at active listening. Describing his way of listening as “canvas mode”, he keeps his mind open like a blank sheet for others to ‘draw’ on.
He emphasised how the program helped him deal with conflict and how it helped him be more decisive. To the later point, Erik says that he used to constantly delay making decisions. He says he would continue to research possible solutions, collecting more and more options. The program helped him realise this process and that self-awareness helps him push himself to make a choice.
I haven’t yet touched on one of Explore’s most interesting features: a live session with an actor who puts participants in high-pressure communicative situations. This helps participants both practise what they learn and gives insight into their ways of communication in a simulated and safe environment.
Erik: For me, it was actually really cool to see the actor do his thing. He is basically just making up a story. At first, as I was going along with it, I felt like I had all the power in my hand. But somehow, he manages to move the conversation in such a way that you are mentally jumping through hoops trying to figure out how to best answer his questions. And he manages to do that over and over again.
He would push the mental effort over to your side. It’s really interesting to see someone do that so effortlessly. And it’s similar to when you're having an actual conflict with someone that might feel aggressive. You can get overwhelmed. But by noticing the small little ways the actor does this, it’s easier not to get stuck in your own head. It’s about staying aware of what they are doing and how you’re reacting and then keeping a clear, logical train of thought, not overreacting but staying present and holding your side.
Erik said the insights the program gave him helped him improve his self-awareness, giving him more tools to deal with situations like this. The live actor session allowed him to put it all into action. Like others in the program, he got something different out of it than he expected.
What was really beautiful to hear over and over is that participants seemed to gain insights they can apply to their whole lives and at work. The focus on empathy and active listening can unlock awareness and build confidence.
In a world where some struggle to listen and others struggle to be heard, and many of us, sometimes myself included, struggle to do either, the program seems to explore communication from all sides. It really seems like something anyone can learn from. Communication is one of those things you can never fully master and is truly entwined with so many aspects of our lives. Maybe that’s why participants report having such a meaningful experience.