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The First Step to Effective Listening

The First Step to Effective Listening

"Skillful listening begins with a commitment to understand those that are being listened to."

By Mary Verstraete

Certainly the skills of listening are important; however, the premise for effective listening begins with our mindset toward others. Without a mindset that is committed to understand the person, the skills of listening are mechanical and without substance.

Steven R. Covey states it likes this: "When I say empathic listening, I am not referring to the techniques of "active" listening or "reflective" listening, which basically involve mimicking what another person says. That kind of listening is skill-based, truncated from character and relationships, and often insults those "listened" to in such a way. It is also essentially autobiographical. If you practice those techniques, you may not project your autobiography in the actual interaction, but your motive in listening is autobiographical. You listen with reflective skills, but you listen with intent to reply, to control, to manipulate.

When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand. I mean seeking first to understand, to really understand. It's an entirely different paradigm. Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person's frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, and you understand how they feel.

In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel....

Empathic listening takes time, but it doesn't take anywhere near as much time as it takes to back up and correct misunderstandings when you're already miles down the road; to redo; to live with unexpressed and unsolved problems; to deal with the results of not giving people psychological air.

Empathic listening is so powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interpretation, you're dealing with the reality inside another person's head and heart. You're listening to understand. You're focused on receiving the deep communication of another human soul.

 The more authentic you become, the more genuine in your expression, particularly regarding personal experiences and even self-doubts, the more people can relate to your expression and the safer it makes them feel to express themselves. That expression, in turn, feeds on the other person's spirit, and genuine creative empathy takes place, producing new insights and learning and a sense of excitement and adventure that keeps the process going."


This begs the question: What would be the impact if leaders listened to their employees and teams with the following empathic mindset?


Intentionally communicating care and interest; partnering with employees in helping solve their situation.

Relationship Stimulates Growth

Providing a supportive, encouraging, and trusting relational environment for employees to succeed.

Responsibility and Stewardship

Facilitating a process for helping employees to be responsible and accountable.

Believe the Best

Believing in, affirming, and valuing employees.

Distinct Design

Intentionally highlighting the employee’s resources and ability to define and move toward a solution, while at the same time build a collaborative relationship.

Exploration and Discovery

Committed to provide a safe environment to help employees explore their challenge or situation in a way that reframes the problem as being solvable.

Integrity, Authenticity, and Sincerity

Demonstrating integrity, authenticity, and sincerity in leading others.

Mary is president and co-founder of the Center for Coaching Excellence where she writes, trains, and consults on effective and masterful leadership conversations.