The best course I took at the Harvard Business School had nothing to do with strategy, control, economics, finance or marketing. But it had everything to do with what Gallup discovered in the American Workplace Surveys on Employee Engagement. What was that course? Interpersonal Behavior.
The course had us focus on the work of Carl Rogers, a psychology legend, who pioneered a client centered therapy technique known as reflective listening. His approach was summed up by Stephen Covey in Chapter 5 of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “To be understood, seek first to understand.” We had to interview someone using this technique. I interviewed a young lady and the depth of her responses was so deep I was blown away. I completed the report and shelved the technique away as something I didn’t want to use again. I wasn’t prepared for the level of emotional intimacy the technique provided.
Reflective listening requires that you intentionally focus on what the person is saying and feeling, then reflect on its meaning before responding. This takes concentration and a willingness to let your ideas take a nap for a while.
When done properly, the speaker senses that you REALLY do want to understand their perspective. This shows both respect and vulnerability on the part of the listener, respect that what the speaker says matters and vulnerability that you are willing to change your position in the process of fully understanding the speaker’s viewpoint.
Stephen Covey referenced this in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People book. Dale Carnegie included this in How to Win Friends and Influence People. Gallup references it as a key to employee engagement. Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence refers to this as empathy. Whatever its name, listening without judging, listening without composing a response simultaneously, or listening and responding without anything about yourself or your position, is a skill few of us have mastered. James in his Biblical book summed it up, “Be quick to listen, slow to anger, and slow to speak.”
To develop this skill here are several steps to aid in your development:
1) Always ask a follow up question before responding with your position.
2) Seek to express their underlying emotion back to them.
3) Acknowledge when you find yourself composing a response instead of listening. Authenticity wins.
4) Restate their position until they acknowledge you understand. This is not just paraphrasing, it’s obtaining their agreement you understand.
When people realize you really are interested in their position, they move you way up their trust ladder. And trust is the basis of all engagement. So if you want to shout out to the world that you are trustworthy, start with your ears.