Listening is a skill we can learn. Anyone can be a good listener, if they want to be.
Most of us struggle to be effective listeners. That’s because we all have natural listening styles that include one of five possible approaches – Appreciative, Empathic, Discerning, Comprehensive, and Evaluative. The first two focus more on feelings while the latter three pay more attention to the facts.
My own experiences with listening are a great example of how hard this skill can be to develop. For example, I tend to use the discerning, comprehensive, and evaluative approaches the most. These are natural for me because I already prioritize logic and facts in my work. Emotional displays tend to make me uncomfortable.
So, what am I supposed to do as an executive coach if my client needs me to be more empathetic when listening to their problems? I must confess it can be difficult to hold back my opinion or resist judging what they are saying or how they are behaving.
Being empathic means showing interest and allowing them to do most of the talking. It includes asking open-ended questions rather than offering advice. Empathic listeners reflect back the emotions they notice and maintain an open posture. None of these are natural behaviors for me.
Speakers will be more impressed with effort than competence as you learn new listening skills.
Is there a secret sauce to being a more empathic listener? The short answer is “yes” because anyone can learn the skills and improve them with practice. Sounds easy, right?
In my case, the practice part of this process felt very uncomfortable. Since being empathetic isn’t a natural behavior, I was reluctant to proceed because it seemed forced and awkward. And it was. But I also discovered that my clients, and others who needed an empathic listening approach, were more impressed with my effort than my competence.
That’s a helpful reminder as you attempt to improve your own listening skills.
The benefits of becoming a better listener will outweigh the discipline required to learn the new skills. Leaders who master all five listening approaches will stand out from the crowd. That’s because when someone truly listens to us it meets a basic human need, the need to be heard, cared for, and understood.
What experiences do you have with being listened to or becoming a better listener?
Photo Credit: istockphoto.com