Simple Not Easy

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March 2010

Simple Not Easy
Back in November ‘09, we were considering the powerful skill called Active Listening. According to authorities who study, observe and research in this vital relationship area, allowing another to know that they have been fully understood is one of the most effective and honorable behaviors an emotionally intelligent executive or leader can engage in. Active Listening for both internal and external relationships can truly give an organization that oft sought-after “unfair advantage” in the marketplace, the workplace and even at home by the fireplace (especially this past winter)!

But Active Listening can be tough on we who like to fix. When we decide we are going to engage in Active Listening, we must suspend our natural desire to offer our opinion or perspective, even if we have what seems like the “right” answer. Usually with nothing but the best of intent, we tend to roadblock the person with the unmet need. We offer the fix instead of letting the other keep the responsibility for better understanding and solving their own problem.

Active Listening is most needed and best utilized when another is experiencing some kind of an upset or rise in emotional temperature (and not just anger or frustration). Here is all A.L. is: feeding back to the person with the problem or unmet need, your understanding of the content and underlying feeling. That’s it. That’s all. It is simple, but not easy. As a matter of fact, A.L. is the poster child for the notion of simple but not easy.

But you tend to read others’ overall state naturally, don’t you? You’re in the people business and you usually are attentive to the cues and clues of others. You are interpersonally aware. You know when something’s up with another. The discipline of giving a word to the emotion is the challenge and is where practice is usually needed.

Active Listening takes practice, but the reward schedule is better than a one-armed-bandit in Vegas. Trying it will reinforce positively one of the most effective relationship building behavioral tools a leader can use. When you cause another in your world to feel understood, the empathy jolt that you’re giving them can often be the turning point they need toward meaningful and lasting problem resolution. And it will move your relationship to a new level.


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