Last time we began a discussion around the criteria for empathy and active listening. This week I will continue looking at ways to hone these skills.
- Do you connect everything another person says to your own experiences?
This is one of the most common issues I encounter when coaching clients in active listening and is by far one of the most powerful ways to show someone you are not listening to them. By relating to your own experiences, you are not honoring the uniqueness of the other person’s thoughts or feelings. For example, you have just returned from a fantastic vacation and you begin to tell an acquaintance about the experience. This person immediately responds by telling you about a fantastic vacation they recently took. They proceed to take over the conversation and continue talking about their vacation with seemingly no interest in what you were trying to share. How do you feel?
This happens frequently because when you are not actively listening you attach what you hear to your own thoughts and memories. Now, you are paying attention to you. Nothing is more off-putting than when you try to communicate something special to another person and the person acts as if they did not hear a single word you said.
If you habitually respond in this way, consider trying the following suggestions to self-guide toward better listening skills. As discussed in last week’s post, stop rehearsing what you are going to say before fully listening to what the other person is saying. Instead of telling them about your own unique experience, simply say, “tell me more.” Those are three of the most powerful words a leader can use in almost any situation. Keep the conversation focused on what the other person is saying and avoid discussing your similar experiences until asked.
- Do you make up your mind before hearing the entire scope of the other person’s account?
This is another common issue for leaders who need to improve their active listening skills. In a busy and fast-paced environment leaders are often required to make decisions quickly. Leaders often stop listening and may miss the very story that could provide important context for a decision that needs to be made. This is a dangerous habit that can repeatedly forestall the ability to lead effectively. It is vital that employees who report to you to feel that you are listening to their point of view rather than dismissing them out of hand.
When someone comes to you with something they would like to share, and you don’t have enough time to fully listen, ask the person to come back when you do have time. If you are available, then by all means, let the story unfold! After hearing the entire story, you should have a better idea of what the relevant concerns are, and which solution, if needed, you think will work best.
Next time we will review another self-observation exercise designed to improve your active listening.