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How to communicate: LLP Skills Café

On the menu of the LLP Skills Café no beer and snacks, but communication skills as listening, resolving conflicts, and giving feedback. ‘Once you really learn to listen, you become a better leader and nicer friend.’

The LLP-participants knew they were going to refresh their newly learned communication skills. However, it was a surprise that they were the ones responsible for giving the workshops. On arrival in the PLNT-building the master's students of the Leiden Leadership Programme heard that they had twenty minutes to create a complete workshop. North America Studies student Hajo: ‘It was quite a switch, but our group immediately came up with all kinds of ideas, such as role-playing. Our workshop was about resolving conflicts, so we said to the participants: challenge each other!’ He smiles: ‘We didn't have to ask that twice.’

Teacher Tomer tells the students the programme for the night.

The participants of the honours program could choose if they wanted to give a workshop about something that they were good at, or a workshop about a skill they wanted to practice more. Management Public Sector student Zakia chose the last option: ‘During my workshop we did role-playing games to practice receiving feedback. Before, I used to dismiss positive feedback, for example by stating that what I did was no big deal. But I’ve learned that if you do this, you don’t recognise your own talents. So now when I get a compliment, I just say thank you and that's it.’

A better world

LLP trainer Tomer Kedar tells about the idea behind the skills café: ‘When we learn communication skills, we often think that we master it right away. But something as giving feedback works the same way as having a good forehand with tennis: you will only get better if you practice it.’ Kedar participated himself in the LLP ten years ago. ‘During the listening trainings I discovered that I was a really bad listener, this was a big eye-opener. Once I started working on this, the people around me felt much more appreciated.'

Kedar believes that learning to listen well is the fastest way to a better world. ‘Although 45 percent of our communication consists of listening, almost nobody is seriously trained in it. This can lead to dramatic outcomes, the Dutch childcare benefits scandal would not have happened if the government would have listened better to its people. Once you really learn to listen, you become a better leader and nicer friend.’

Mouths shut

But how do you become a pro in listening? According to Industrial Ecology student Marron paraphrasing is a useful tool, because you yourself also better understand what the other person means. Practicing the technique of paraphrasing was the main focus of her workshop: ‘Repeating what the other person is saying can feel a bit forced, but if you do it more often it becomes more natural.’ Zakia adds: ‘Something valuable I learned was that sometimes you just need to keep your mouth shut and let the other person finish speaking completely. Then he or she feels much more heard.’

At the end of an evening full of resolved conflicts and paraphrased stories, the students could buy some well-deserved (non-alcoholic) drinks at the PLNT bar. In the end, the LLP Skills Café did truly live up to its name.

Text: Sarawitia Franken
Photos: Eric van den Bandt

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