Have you ever shared a problem with a friend or family member and immediately been given a solution in response? Sometimes this is helpful, especially in an emergency. Often, though, what we want is for someone simply to hear us, for them to listen actively to what we’re saying. I have a friend who listens intently and helps me find my own way; if I want specific advice, he’ll give it.
Robert Greenleaf, the contemporary founder of servant-leadership, wrote that listening is the number one characteristic of a servant-leader. Everything else flows from there, including the building of trust.
Deep active listening requires all of you – eyes, ears, undivided attention, and heart. Some listening is done on the outside:
- Use appropriate eye contact;
- Lean forward slightly;
- Nod your head;
- Avoid distractions;
- Avoid interrupting;
- Use phrases such as “I hear you,” “I see,” and “Tell me more.”;
- Ask clarifying questions; and
- Paraphrase what the other person has said to see if you are correct in your understandings.
Greenleaf also describes listening on the inside:
- Move into empathy by imagining yourself in the speaker’s situation;
- Listen with your ears for the content and feeling;
- Listen from your heart and respond to the underlying emotion;
- Work on our own attitude;
- Use silence at times. Don’t feel the need to “fill all the gaps.”;
- Avoid the temptation to apply a quick fix to the other person’s problem.
It is important to remember that the good intentions that our friends and family most likely are exhibiting when they offer solutions – they are just trying to help. You can, however, ask for the type of help you want. Before sharing a problem, you can simply say, “I’m not looking for a solution right now; I just want to share this with you and have you listen.” Verbally working through an issue with someone else might even bring about a solution, whether or not you were looking for one.
Mark Elberfeld, President