After practising empathic listening for over a week, and making a conscious effort to implement it in my day I have learned some things.
- The first point was to nominate someone close to me and tell them about this challenge. I chose my husband, so I’ll start with his feedback: He felt I was listening more and better when he spoke to me; that I was (even more) engaged in our conversations and he wanted to share even more of his thoughts with me. And I must admit that I do feel like our communication has improved. This is a good start, isn’t it?
- Observe how other people interact and their body language. We are in lock-down right now so I tried films. I observed the body language in movies but I struggled here, because actors are trained to show with their body the emotions they have to express. So it was too obvious. I will try next with reality shows (recommendations are welcome!). And I will also seek to practise this face to face once we can go back to the office, as I am sure it’ll be more challenging in real life.
- Think ahead of each interaction. It was difficult for me to find that space before meetings, specially for those “back-to-back” days. But I found a way to actively remind myself to do it. I normally use the first 30 minutes of my day (before I even open my inbox) to think about what is ahead of me that day and identify my priorities. Now I am also identifying who I will interact with and think about what they will need from me and why. By writing down what I thought the other person wanted and comparing afterwards, I noticed a knowledge gap: before this exercise I focused my conversations on my needs and objectives, what I needed to happen next rather than what the other person needed from me. So I have now shifted that. I showed more curiosity, asked more questions, tried to understand better… and guess what? I have made considerable progress discovering the true needs or objectives of the other person. And I also noticed I go more prepared to meetings. This has brought me closer to my colleagues as I interact with them more. Next step for me here is to try it in my personal life. I wonder if there are any differences in the results.
- Recognise when you are not doing empathic listening. Some of the recommended cues don’t work very well. Saying “I’m listening” may come across as too formal or make the other person think I am not truly listening. It could be that body language or actions are indeed more important than words. In many occasions I had to stop the urge to interrupt with “I” statements. By doing this, the other person had the space to put their thoughts across without feeling judged. So this is something I will definitely keep doing.
- Reframe my point within the other person’s frame of reference. This is where I realised empathic listening is more than a technique – it is an art. You need to be agile and flexible, adapt your speech quickly to what you have discovered is key for the other person. This only requires practise to be able to do it seamlessly.
The above are specific learnings from the technique itself. But more importantly what have I really learned? And did this challenge meet my expectations?
- Doing empathic listening only sometimes is not enough to see a change in your relationships. It needs to be done consistently so the others can also change their mindset towards you, and open up fully.
- I felt some people around me have opened up already and shared with me what is important to them. And this has made me feel a deeper level of responsibility towards them because of that bond of trust that is strengthening and I don’t want to break.
- Towards the end of the challenge I started to feel more present and I noticed when I was slipping and starting to not truly listen anymore. I am more aware now.
- I also identify when people don’t try to understand me when they are talking to me. This is helping me to approach those conversations differently.
To summarise, empathic listening may be easy in theory, but its practise is definitely not as straightforward as they say. It requires time and true intention to do it correctly. There are SO MANY distractions (even during lock-down) that it is necessary to find ways to constantly remind us of it until it becomes second nature.
Just over a week practising empathic listening (and not as consistently as I would have liked) has shown promising results. Some say it takes at least 21 days to build a habit, so I will keep going because what I experienced from this challenge in this short period of time tells me it is definitely worth continuing.
If you missed my post on empathic listening, you can read it here.
Have you tried it? Share your experience!