In a car ride from Brooklyn to JFK airport, I sank back into my seat after 3 full days of delivering leadership training. On this rare occasion of not talking much (because I was exhausted), I listened to my driver through his broken English as he told a story of his son who was in trouble with drugs, and how it was so difficult to get the right help for him. Because one of my brothers was struggling with a similar issue, I was completely present in the moment. I naturally empathized with him. I barely said 2 words during this almost 2 hour drive, but through my nonverbals I acknowledged his emotions and showed I cared. We arrived at the airport and when I tried to pay him, he said “no, no – no money.” OK this is NYC and I’m thinking what does he want?! But he said “no money, that was the best conversation I ever had, thank you.” Wow, I learned a lot that day about how to communicate more effectively. My grandmother used to say, you have 2 ears and 1 mouth, use them in that proportion.
Most of us have been taught active listening – it’s when you paraphrase what you heard to check for understanding, and to show that you were listening. But there are times when we need to take it a step further. We need to emotionally connect with someone by showing that we understand how they are feeling. When we listen empathically, we show we truly care and it builds trust in the relationship.
Many of us may try and avoid the emotional stuff but when we do we miss an opportunity to greatly enhance a relationship. Whether you’re a c-suite executive, middle manager, supervisor, or informal leader, this also builds emotional intelligence, which will have a high payoff – at work and at home! Although it doesn’t come naturally to all of us, each of us can practice and improve with these 3 Easy Steps to Empathic Listening:
Be present in the moment. Clear your mind of other thoughts and issues.
Withhold evaluations and solutions –be objective and pay attention to what is being said, verbally and nonverbally.
Show the person that you’re listening, reflect back what you heard, and acknowledge the person’s feelings.
Take active listening to the next level and create trust and loyalty with the people you lead. It is also a great foundation to establishing a culture of accountability. And hey, try it in your personal life and watch those relationships improve too!