The Powerful Duo of Listening and Empathising

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Lindsay Taylor details the two skills that combine to create a formidable approach

Listening

Listening is the key to creating and maintaining rapport. Combine it with empathy and you have a powerful duo to ensure a great working relationship with your manager and team. Let’s consider each in turn starting with Listening.

Listening is a skill and for many of us, it is a skill we can improve on.

The crème de la crème of listening involves listening with your whole body and then mirroring or matching the person in order to create and maintain rapport. Once we have great rapport we are more easily able to influence or persuade – with integrity – so that we can achieve our goals and outcomes. The “integrity” element here is of utmost importance when influencing – we need to ensure the person we are influencing is being taken to a good place as well as ourselves.

Let’s use the research of former Harvard Professor Albert Mehrabian as a basis for whole body listening. Mehrabian stated that when engaged in face-to-face communication and sharing our thoughts and feelings, communication can be broken down into three areas – 1) the words that we speak 2) the tone that we use and 3) the body language that we use. The words that we speak account for 7% importance in getting our message across, the tone for 38% and the body language for 55%.

Listen with your ears to the words: 

We all have a preference for phrases, terminology and favourite sayings. Our own personal interpretation of vocabulary may be different to someone else’s.

Notice what specific words and phrases the person you are listening to has used. Repeat back these words and phrases. Based on the popular saying “people like people who are like themselves”, by using the same “language” and words as the person you are listening to this demonstrates your respect for what they are saying. You are keeping the conversation “clean” by using their language without “dirtying” the conversation with your own preferences.

Listen with your ears to the tone:

Listen to how someone is using their voice. What tone of voice are they using? What emphasis are they placing on words? How fast or slow are they speaking? What volume are they using? What does this tell you?

Listen with your eyes to the body language:

Based on Mehrabian’s research we know that 55% of communication comes down to body language. As a listener then we can assess a lot from noticing what is happening in a person’s body language including their physiology (facial expressions), gestures and movement. What can you see happening? We can listen with our eyes and use this information to be curious about what is going on for that person. Combine this with empathy and you have a powerful duo.

So what is empathy?

Empathy (according to www.diffen.com) is “the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions and direct experience of others”. By empathising with someone, you are taking the time and effort to try to understand things from their point of view. You are working with the fact that most of us like to be (and indeed want to be) valued and respected in the workplace. We want people to take the time to understand things from our point of view. By empathising with someone you are gaining more of an awareness of a situation – and that can open up choice, opportunities and flexibility around your own behaviours. By empathising with someone and respecting and valuing them – they, in turn will respect and value you. And that sets a pretty solid foundation for a great working relationship, I’m sure you’d agree.

Think of what you already know about the person you want to empathise with. What’s important to them? Remember, we are “sensory” creatures, so see, hear and feel the world from their perspective. Put the person you are empathising with at the forefront of the conversation. Be precise in the language that you use. Say things like:

“I appreciate your point of view and…”

“I can see/hear where you’re coming from and…”

“I get your perspective and…”

“It’s obvious to me that you’re really passionate/upset/frustrated/excited with this…”

“I understand how you are feeling…”

Sound back and repeat particular words or phrases that they have used. A person’s vocabulary, the terms and words they use are “precious” to them – they mean something to them (which could be different to your own interpretation).

Keep gentle eye contact. Let the person finish saying what they want to say. Regular nods of your head will indicate you are listening (with your whole body remember) and you value what they are sharing with you.

And then, ask one Great Question – “What do you need from me?”

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About Author

Lindsay Taylor

Lindsay Taylor is Director of Your Excellency Limited, an executive coaching and training organisation in the UK. Your Excellency Limited have an extensive portfolio of learning and development offerings including Administrative Professional training, coaching and qualifications. As a former PA herself, Lindsay has first-hand experience of the diversity of the Administrative Professionals role and the challenges faced. Lindsay delivers training and coaching across the world in fun, down-to-earth sessions that provide memorable and practical learning and skills. Lindsay is the proud author of the award-winning book “A-Z Pearls of Wisdom for Executive PAs”. For more details please contact Lindsay on +44(0)7930 194147, email [email protected] or visit www.yourexcellency.co.uk.

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