Sharpen the Tools of Reflective Listening

This post was written by Hannah Morris, Director of Assessment & Advancement at The Latimer Group.

I have gotten to that phase of life where people are sending me articles about how to manage teenagers. I have a 12.5-year-old and we’re doing fine, but we all know what’s coming. The most recent article was about why teenagers reject the solutions offered by their parents. My dad sent it and I wonder if he saw the irony.

As I read the article, I heard all the advice that we have been teaching in recent sessions of our Powerful Presence workshops. The article explained how teenagers just need to vent, how they seek empathy, how they want a vote of confidence and don’t want parents to swoop in and solve their problems. It all sounded very familiar because this is not just good advice for teenagers, it is for everyone.

In the business world, we are constantly looking for solutions to problems. We need to identify the root-cause of the problem and then the corrective action to address it. And that skillset serves us well in most endeavors, except listening.

When someone comes to you to share a problem, a situation, a feeling, they need you to use a different skillset. They need reflective listening.

Here is what I keep in mind when I am listening to my colleagues – and my daughter:

Listen to understand. Take in as much information as possible. Pay attention to the words, but also: tone of voice, pace, pausing, hesitation, facial expressions, posture, gestures, fidgeting, eye contact. Listen with your eyes and ears to the whole scene in front of you to get the best understanding of the situation, emotion, attitude, priority, and goal.

Listen to learn. We can all learn everyday from everyone around us – if we have the right attitude. Let curiosity and humility be your guides and listen to learn from what this person’s perspective and experience can share.

Listen to acknowledge. More than anything, we all want to be heard. It makes us feel respected, engaged, empowered.

And here’s what we should all try to avoid:

Avoid jumping in to answer and solve. We think that we are being helpful, but when we offer an unsolicited solution, it comes with a hidden message: I know better and I don’t have confidence that you can figure this out on your own. Instead, once they have expressed everything, we can repeat back what we have heard and ask what they are looking for in this conversation. If they are seeking a solution, ask them questions to help them reach it on their own. This can be difficult, but immensely valuable.

Avoid finishing their sentences. This one is very hard for me. When we are listening to someone and we think we know where they are going, we want to show them that we get it. But whether or not we do, we are doing them (and ourselves) a disservice by interjecting. In those instances, try to use a simple verbal or even nonverbal acknowledgement instead.

With all this in mind, I should be all set for the teenage years, right? Ha.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Hannah Morris

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.