Listening authentically

listeningIn last week’s blog, I personally committed to working on my listening skills. To tamp down that automatic urge I have for interrupting someone before they have finished what they are saying. And to listen fully, without formulating a response in my head while they are talking. I’ve been doing pretty well with my resolution over the week, but it’s amazing how quickly those resolutions to listen authentically can devolve when someone comes to you with a conflict situation and emotions are charged.

Last month at a professional development event, Karmit Bulman, executive director of the Conflict Resolution Center, shared a helpful 3-step strategy for listening and reflecting to someone who comes to you with a conflict.

Step 1: Ask the person to share the details of the conflict, problem, or issue with you.

Step 2: Listen carefully, without making judgments or giving advice.

Step 3: Reflect what you heard back to the individual. First, reflect the feelings that you observed, summarize the facts, and state the values you heard being confronted in the conflict.

Here’s an example of what that 3-step process might look like in action:

A student comes into your office upset about a bad experience with their advisor. Rather than going straight into advice mode, you listen carefully, ask for any pertinent details, and then begin reflecting. You might say:

“I can see you are angry and you feel frustrated by your last interaction with your advisor. You expected to have an advisor who could support your career goals and give you constructive advice on which courses to take next semester. Instead he told you that girls often don’t like the science required in your major and that you should consider a different career path. This threatened your sense of competence and your identity as a young woman.” 

While as a leader, you may follow-up responsibilities in this scenario, it is important to first listen authentically. The student then feels both that you have heard and understood her and are willing to help her move forward with an action plan for next steps to resolve the conflict.

During a professional development event, we actually practiced this 3-step process and it was amazing how it both diffused the emotions and improved my ability to listen authentically. The process of summarizing the facts lets the individual know that you really have been listening and paying attention to them. But more important, the addition of reflecting the feelings that you observed and the values that have been confronted, helps that person to feel heard. It affirms their experience and makes it possible to sort out emotion, so that you can help them move forward.

What tools have helped you to listen authentically?

Anita Rios



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