There is tremendous value in diverse perspectives. We might learn something, have a belief challenged, or have a creative spark ignited, etc. It is to our personal advantage, and for the benefit of our organizations, to expand our perspective in order to progress.
Many of us were told to never discuss religion or politics in a social setting because those topics were ‘uncomfortable’ and could lead to controversy. The implication was that we should only discuss trivial things without potential for disagreement, but were we misled? Can’t civilized people disagree?
While politics and religion may not be the type of topics for discussion in the workplace, my point is that there are many valuable viewpoints / solutions, and yes, they may spark controversy and disagreement. But, understanding and appreciating others’ views opens us up to new perspectives and bigger-picture thinking.
Disagreement can be a good thing – but it requires us to listen openly with empathy! There are many definitions of empathy, but here is the one I like: The ability to understand and appreciate another person's perspective, even when that perspective is different from your own. Some describe empathy as being able to ‘put yourself in another person's shoes’ because it’s about imagining what it would be like to be in that person's situation. But it’s also about understanding the emotional elements involved. Leaders who demonstrate empathy – the ability to take perspective – have a greater ability to relate to people and ideas around them. In the workplace, empathy has been shown to lead to stronger performance and a culture of continuous learning.
Here are five tips for listening openly with empathy:
1: Make time and space to connect with people and find out what is meaningful to them. Create the ‘space’ for empathy and listening -- pay attention physically as well as mentally; put away your connected device.
2: Open your mind and your attitude - accept that you are only one person, one perspective. Keep your mind open regarding thoughts, feelings, and motives. If you are a leader -- recognize that you don’t have to know everything -- be open to continuous learning.
3: Truly listen -- don’t share a similar experience that happened to you -- just listen. Consciously put aside your own views and listen with the intent of understanding.
4: Ask open-ended questions to clarify the message and the emotion. When you sincerely acknowledge the emotion as well as the message, it reassures the person that you understand and empathize on two levels.
5: Acknowledge the other person’s reality/perspective -- don’t judge. You don’t have to ‘agree’ with it, but you need to acknowledge it and respond to the key messages. Repeat what you heard, including the emotion behind the words, to test your understanding.
Communicating in a Character Culture with Tact, Integrity, and Courage in the Workplace has a number of practical communication tools including the Listen-Acknowledge-Ask© model.
If you are interested in personal coaching around how to listen openly with empathy, or coaching for your team, please reach out to me.
Kathleen Redmond, MA, MCC