I've recently revisited Steven Covey's - 7 habits of highly effective people. The 5th habit - 'Seek first to understand, then be understood' has really resonated with me. Many leaders I am working with are now planning a 'return to the office' with their team as the lockdown restrictions hopefully start to ease in April. Many will not be returning to their office full time and want to work more flexibly moving forward. Leaders are now planning how a blend of office and virtual working can work best for their business, customers and employees. This is where listening empathetically to team members is more crucial than ever, as Covey says 'diagnose before you subscribe'. Whilst Leaders won't be able to fulfil every individual request it's important to take time now to understand others hilltops and where they are coming from. Every individual has been affected by the pandemic in a different way. Taking some time to understand what your teams thoughts and feelings are will help you create a plan for all whilst balancing the needs of the business and your customers. It also ensures your team feel part of the planning and gives them an opportunity to share their ideas and suggestions to drive shared responsibility and ownership for making it a success.
On the same token take time to listen to your customers, they will have experienced the pandemic in different ways. Personally, I've noticed that many of my clients I had worked with a year ago (mainly) face to face are really enjoying virtual coaching and consulting. I can't wait to get back in a room with some of my clients but I am also mindful that some of them may not feel/think the same. Covey's habit 'Seek first to understand and then to be understood' (Principles of Empathetic Communication) is well worth a read. I focus on empathetic listening as part of the Emotional Intelligence work I do with clients - it's helped them greatly to lead and listen throughout this time. Here are my top tops to help you listen empathetically.
Be non judgmental - let go of your own opinions and ideas to free you up to listen to the other persons' perspective. This will help you to help them. It also shows you care about them.
Listen to facts and feelings - listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Listen for feeling words and thinking words.
Show you are listening carefully - you can still do this virtually, turn distractions off, make eye contact and don't interrupt.
Enjoy the silence - give others the space to reflect on the answers to your questions. Appreciate that silence helps the other person to process and formulate their emotions, thoughts and feelings into a response. Think about how the silence is helping their thought processes.
Give your full attention - turn devices off, turn notifications off, put the phone away, use eye contact and body language to engage fully.
Restate words and statements shared - use the persons words to clarify your understanding. Remember there is no script for empathetic listening - respond in the moment.
Ask the 'Is there anything else? question - ensure you give the person the opportunity to share as much as you can. Often the anything else question can prompt them to think of something buried deeper or a great idea that helps to find the solution.
Check-in regularly - follow up to ensure the person knows they can come to you when they need and want to.