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How Making Assumptions Creates Communication Havoc and Deteriorates Relationships

“To assume makes an ass out of you and me,” is one of those sayings that is clever on many levels. Predominantly, it tells us about the danger of failing to listen. When we don’t listen to what is being said, we risk making assumptions and taking actions that can cost an organization its business, revenue, and reputation. Assumptions cause communication problems down the line (like playing Chinese whispers and guessing what was said), and can destroy trust and ruin relationships.

In this post I’ll look at a few empathic listening techniques that will enable you to manage workplace relationships with greater integrity. This will help build trust and foster a more engaged workplace.

What are empathic listening techniques?

Most people prefer to talk rather than listen. Yet, as the psychologist Carl Rogers said, “Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.”

While listening to someone speak is a skill that is difficult enough to master, empathic listening is twice as difficult. This is because it generally involves listening to a person who is experiencing a severe emotional reaction − for example, pain, anger, disappointment, or upset.

When you listen empathically, you enable the speaker to attain greater self-esteem. The speaker will become more self-aware as you support him or her through a difficult time or specific issue.

In traditional conversation, there is give and take. Each participant takes it in turn to listen and to speak. Empathic listening techniques require 100% concentration on what the speaker is trying to communicate. The empathic listener will be aware that energy speaks, and be able to decipher the difference between verbal and nonverbal communication.

7 techniques to master listening with empathy

To listen with empathy, you must master the art of active listening. Here are seven techniques to practice with everyone that asks for advice or seeks out your council:

  1. Forget multi-tasking. Turn off your cellphone and close down your laptop or tablet. Put the speaker at ease by ensuring that he or she will have your undivided attention.
  2. This conversation is about the speaker, so let him or her dominate the conversation. The conversation may meander, so be prepared to use techniques to keep on track and focused.
  3. Remain attentive and refuse the temptation to interrupt.
  4. At natural breaks in the speaker’s flow, ask open-ended questions to prompt further clarification.
  5. Don’t judge. By being impartial, you will encourage the speaker to be more open.
  6. Read the speaker’s body language to gain greater insight. Sometimes the words used will not be what the speaker wants to say. Body language betrays real emotion. React accordingly.
  7. Clarify what has been said so that there is no confusion – and no assumptions. Emotional people may become confused themselves, saying things they don’t really mean. By confirming the message, you will avoid the mistake of making damaging assumptions.

Practice empathy in your communication style

Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes, and look at things from his or her point of view. You’ll help the speaker to feel safe by acknowledging understanding of the issues. You’ll show respect for him or her and the problem they have. As an empathic listener, your main job is to facilitate self-awareness of the speaker – to help him or her come to his or her own conclusions and solutions.

The leader who onboards empathic listening techniques will engender greater respect, more honesty, and deeper motivation among his or her employees. They will be more willing to accept responsibilities and drive the discovery of workplace solutions.

If you don’t listen with empathy, you’ll make assumptions that will ruin workplace relationships, destroy reputations, and damage morale.

Contact Forward Focus today to discover how an Emotional Intelligence course will develop and embed effective personal skills in the workplace, for leaders, managers, and employees.

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