Do you want to improve your attentiveness as a leader? Active listening is one of many techniques that Martyn Newman recommends.
There are a series of well-documented behaviours that comprise the essential steps to listening well and building empathic connections. Here is a short road map for creating effective emotional connections with others to strengthen your business connections.
Attention please ladies and gentlemen
The most obvious challenge to listening well is simple inattention; external factors such as pressure schedules, multitasking etc, distract you from giving your full attention to someone. There are also internal factors that make you inattentive like fatigue, passing premature judgment (such as approving or disapproving of the other person's statement), preparing your rebuttal, advising or offering premature reassurance. The first step in listening well, then, involves making a commitment to suspend your own agenda for a few moments, however important, and learning to focus your attention on the person in front of you and their agenda.
"People tend to think of communication as a verbal process; however, most psychological research estimates that 85% of our communication is non-verbal."
A posture of involvement
In practice, empathy begins with active listening and listening begins with being attentive. Attending involves giving your physical attention to another person by listening to them describing their experience. I was recently invited by the CEO of one of Europe's biggest banks to help them respond to a problem that was costing them millions of Euros in lost customers and business. When I asked: "how can I help?" The CEO responded by asking: "can you get our senior sales directors to look customers in the eye and take an interest in them and what they need because their lack of engagement is costing us millions in lost sales!"
People tend to think of communication as a verbal process; however, most psychological research estimates that 85% of our communication is non-verbal. For example, good eye contact is an effective way of showing interest and also picking up on another person's facial messages. Also, develop a body posture of involvement. You've heard the expression, 'They were on the edge of their seats'. In other words, when you want to communicate that you are listening to someone, lean towards the person. This conveys acceptance and that you consider what the person has to say is important.
These are the physical mechanics of listening, but what a person wants most of all from someone who listens to them is psychological presence.
A question is worth a thousand words
Psychological presence is communicated by a single-minded focus on actively facilitating the process of disclosure. Once eye contact is established and your smile and body posture convey that you are giving the other person your full attention, 'minimal encourages' are responses that use a combination of verbal and a non-verbal cues that encourage another person to keep talking. The message they convey is: 'I'm with you' or 'please go on'.
An open invitation to talk, however briefly, is like a gift to a colleague or client. Good questions create this invitation and facilitate conversations. By asking questions - particularly open questions that begin with what, how or why - you provide an invitation for someone to express themselves. Questions for clarification allow the listener to take an active interest in what the other has to say and help to expand the discussion.
Pause and paraphrase
The skill of listening well also involves the ability to respond reflectively. In a reflective response, the listener restates the content of what the person said in a way that demonstrates understanding and acceptance. Before rushing to give your response to what a person has said, it is often very helpful to pause and paraphrase what it is you think you've heard. Active listening together with empathic reflection allows you to accurately identify what the customer's real concerns are and focus on generating a more productive response.
Building emotional capital
Sensing what another is feeling without them saying so, captures the essence of empathy. Others may not often tell us in words what they feel, but they do tell us in their tone of voice, facial expression or other nonverbal ways. At the very least, empathy requires being able to read another's emotions at a higher level. It entails sensing and responding to a person's unspoken concerns or feelings.
Emotions convey crucial information that transcends the content of the words used. They are part of the emotional economy that passes between people. This level of empathy requires you to go beneath the speaker's words and look for the real feelings that surround the person's experience.
"By adopting an attitude of genuine curiosity and by suspending judgment you focus on getting to the heart of the other person's experience."
Above all, learn to suspend judgment and to develop an attitude of curiosity. By adopting an attitude of genuine curiosity and by suspending judgment you focus on getting to the heart of the other person's experience. By keeping your eyes engaged with the speaker, asking questions for clarification, remaining open, and paraphrasing what you hear, you overcome resistance and create the conditions for effective cooperation.
Robert Peterson, marketing professor at the University of Texas specialises in understanding the factors that determine customer satisfaction. After more than 100 research studies he has determined that the connection between customer satisfaction and repeat business involves establishing an emotional link between the customer and everyone the customer comes into contact with at your company.
If satisfying a customer's needs has anything to do with purchasing your products or buying-in to your leadership, then developing empathy as a skill should be of enormous interest to you and your business. Of all the competencies that set you apart as a great leader, your capacity for empathy is what makes you an exceptional leader.
Martyn Newman Ph.D is a consulting psychologist and managing director of RocheMartin. He is author of the international bestseller,'Emotional Capitalists – The New Leaders' and the 'Emotional Capital Report' – the world's first scientifically designed tool for measuring emotional intelligence and leadership