IF WE WANT MORE EMPATHY AND COLLABORATION
WE HAVE TO LEARN HOW TO LISTEN
By: Stephen Hevesi
Design thinking is an approach for achieving practical, creative solutions to problems. It is a form of solution-focused thinking with the intent of producing a constructive future result. Many companies are successfully implementing this approach today and among its processes, three are crucial: collaboration, diversity and empathy. Why? Because the best designs are human-centered. My objective in this article is not to elaborate on the merits of design thinking but rather, to reflect on the need for most of us to improve our listening skills since they are crucial if we want to achieve empathy and collaboration.
We are terrible listeners. Most of us listen to respond rather than to understand. Most of the time we are less interested in attentively trying to understand what someone else is telling us, but rather our minds are either thinking of something else, are constructing a response or finding solutions to stories halfway told. Why do we do that? Because we have our own set of beliefs which we hold as true and because our brain is looking for patterns and things we recognize as familiar which make sense to us from our internal frame of reference.
If we truly want to be empathetic, collaborative and embrace diversity in the process, we must learn how to listen and understand others´ perspectives and points of view.
Here are some ways in which we can improve our listening skills:
- Be curious. Ask open-ended questions to really try to understand what others are telling you and why.
- Be judgement and filter free. I realize this is a tough one, but try to act as an interested observer who is simply trying to understand.
- Be present. Don’t multitask. Turn off your devices and give full attention to whoever is speaking. And remember to make eye contact.
- Don’t be afraid to clarify. If in doubt, don’t let your pre-established filter judge and take over. Ask and clarify.
- Use open ended questions to probe further. Open ended questions will always give you more information than a simple yes or no answer.
- Pay attention to non-verbal communication. What is the other person’s tone of voice, facial expressions and body language telling you?
- Acknowledge what you hear without agreeing or disagreeing. If necessary paraphrase in order to confirm your understanding.
Good listening skills need practice and concentration, but the results can be very powerful, and they are key when we work in groups in which collaboration, diversity and empathy are important.