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Three Ways Leaders Can Listen with More Empathy

| April 15, 2014

by Jim Bruce

Three Ways Leaders Can Listen with More Empathy

Today’s reading is Three Ways Leaders Can Listen with More Empathy,  an essay by Christine M. Riordan, Provost at the University of Kentucky and an expert in leadership development and workplace diversity.  The essay appeared on the HBR Blog Network.

Riordan observes that “The ability and willingness to listen with empathy is often what sets a leader apart.  Hearing words is not adequate;  the leader needs to work at understanding the position and perspective of others involved in the conversation.”

So, what new behaviors do leaders need to adopt?  She suggests three in her essay:

1.  Recognize verbal and non-verbal cues – tone, facial expressions, body language.  Listen and pay attention to what others are not saying and probe deeper;  understand how others are feeling.  Give others the opportunity to say more by indicating that you would like to hear more about their perspective.  Acknowledge the deeper understanding you have by thanking others for discussing the entire situation.  

2.  Listen to understand the meanings of the messages and keep track of the conversation points.  Leaders assure others that they are remembering what has been said by summarizing key points of agreement and disagreement, noting what additional information is needed, and suggesting possible next steps.

3.  Respond to assure others that listening has occurred.  Effective responders give appropriate replies through verbal acknowledgments, deep and clarifying questioning, and paraphrasing.  They also respond non-verbally through facial expressions, eye-contact, and body language that are consistent what what they are saying.

Empathetic listening is multi-dimensional.  It builds trust and respect, enables people to reveal their emotions, facilitates openness, and creates collaborative problem solving.  

Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer at IDEO, has said during “my twenties I assumed that the world was more interested in me than I was in it, so I spent most of my time talking, usually in a quite uninformed way, about whatever I thought, rushing to be clever, thinking about what I was going to say rather than listening to what they were saying to me.”

Don’t let this be you.  Slow down, engage, hear and learn from others, and do ask questions.


And, begin today.  .  .  .   jim