When it comes to interviewing, dealing with difficult situations, or leadership of employees, most people would agree that listening is a big part of being successful. However most people don’t know what active listening is, although they think they know. In Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” he lists habit five as “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
As simple as that may sound, unfortunately that is not a quality that is common in our culture. Turn on any TV program or open any newspaper and you would think habit five reads, “Seek first to be understood then, if they agree with you, to maybe try and understand their point of view.” Our competitive nature forces us to always be right and to prove to others why they are wrong. If you think about it, in every level of education you have received, from pre-school to high school, college, or higher, you were given a lot of education and practice on many different forms of communication. You learned how to read, write, and speak and got lots of practice to improve each skill. Most people were never taught how to listen.
Empathic listening is a skill you have to learn, practice and perfect to be a great interviewer and leader. Listening with empathy builds trust and to truly build trust you must listen to everything someone is saying. The act of empathic listening begins with reflection. You are probably familiar with the breakdown of how we communicate. About 10 percent comes from the words being said, 20 percent from the tone of voice and inflection, and 70 percent is derived from body language. Each of these gives the listener valuable information on how to be a great communicator. Empathic listeners take into account 100 percent of the aspects of communication, where most people only focus on the 10 percent — words being said. Here is a short activity you can do to illustrate this point.
Write the phrase “I Didn’t Say I Kicked My Dog!” Now say the sentence, but each time you say the sentence, inflect a different word. After each time you say the sentence, write down what the meaning of the statement is. When you are done you will have a list that looks something like this.
- Denied saying, but blaming someone else.
- Denying saying it.
- Did the action, but denied saying it.
- Someone else kicked the dog.
- Did something else to my dog.
- Kicked somebody else’s dog.
- Kicked something other than your dog.
That’s seven totally different meanings from the same seven words written in the same order. The only difference was the non-verbal communication, and it changed everything.
Next week I will discuss a powerful listening tool called “Reflection” and a great drill that can be used to practice listening.
Shawn Stewart is the Operations Manager at Gainesville Health and Fitness Center. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org