In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey wrote, “Seek first to understand.” This is a simple and brief description of empathetic listening. So what does this mean? Most importantly, why should we listen with the intent to understand?
Empathetic Listening and the Circle of Trust
Empathetic listening is one of the pillars of our Circle of Trust, which is a process we have developed in order to first build trust, then build relationships. As Covey described, most of us listen to respond. We do this for a variety of reasons: we may want the other person to see that we are smart, believe we know a lot about a topic, or think we have been there, too. If you really dig into these responses, you will usually find that they are based on our own egos and our needs to fit in. Sure, we may be trying to be helpful and provide advice, or guidance. We may be looking to build a connection that leads to a relationship. The fact is that if building trust and then a relationship is the goal, listening to respond is counterproductive.
What Would You Want?
Think about yourself and your needs when you are in crisis, or just feeling sad. Do you want advice? How do you feel when another adult is giving you advice to a situation they know little about? Adults rarely want to be told what to do. When we share our struggles, what we seek is to be listened to, to be acknowledged, to be understood.
The Value of Empathetic Listening
Simply put, this single technique will allow you to gain an element of trust. The speaker obviously already has some trust in you for them to share their story. Listening to that story, without judgement and without giving unsolicited advice, builds on that trust. Listening with empathy shows that you are present and that you care.
While this may seem like a “touchy-feely” sentiment that is based on personal relationships alone, I can assure you it is important in business, too. Employees want to be heard. Peers want to be heard. Customers definitely want to be heard. In fact, if you let them, your customers will eventually tell you where their problems are. That is, once they have enough trust in you.
There’s more to come! In our next article, we will provide details on how to practice empathetic listening.