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Empathic Listening is for Everyone’s Good

Empathic Listening is for Everyone’s Good

One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People has got to be unpopular with the self-seeking, personal agenda of most of us these days. The habit is number five, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This principle is at the heart of empathic listening. Listening is essential to good communication that lets minds come together for the advancement of all.

The goal for those of us who want to get all we can out of life must include an interdependence with other people. If we think we are going to succeed at business, social life, or whatever without a meeting of minds with those around us, we are on a rough and lonely road. Not only that, when we have real communication going on, it is more likely that we can arrive at a win/win solution that makes everyone happy.

1. Realize our internal scripting. This is best done by getting to know ourselves through a bit of personality study. The four types originally identified by Hippocrates are a good place to start, but there are many other systems of personality theory. Seeking first to understand is complicated by our internal “scripting,” which is that personal perspective with which we approach everything.

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2. Be aware of the four wrong ways to respond and notice when we are doing them. They are probing, evaluating, advising, and interpreting. Probing is asking pointed questions to get the person to reveal more about what’s troubling them. Too often this is associated with one of the other self-centered response styles. For instance, we are just waiting for fuel for an interpretation or judgment we have already made.

3. Be careful about using mimicking techniques used by psychologists. It’s OK to repeat back what you hear someone say, but if you’re not with them emotionally, they will see right through you. A better method is to repeat back in your own words, with the emotional and physical facts included.

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4. Think win/win. When we feel we understand where the other person is coming from and what his or her needs are, we still have the job of making ourselves understood if we are to reach a point of agreement. Covey’s fourth habit is to “Think win/win.” Too often, we approach any sort of relationship communication problems from a competitive win/lose perspective. This attitude can display itself in one of two ways. We can have such a strong desire to win that we don’t care how we run over the other person. Or we can desire to avoid conflict so that we willingly lose.

5. Develop an abundance mentality. Win/win means both parties come out feeling like winners. This is a wonderful positive way to look at life which is closely related to our gut belief that there is enough to go around. Covey calls this the “Abundance Mentality” and contrasts it with a “Scarcity Mentality” which is far more common. Having an abundance mentality means we truly believe that we can win and they can win at the same time because there is plenty of whatever we both want (money, time, etc.) to meet everyone’s needs. A scarcity mentality means we have to fight it out because there won’t be enough for us both.

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Life is enriched by positive relationships with friends and business associates, but all too often we upset the peace because we don’t take the time to listen emphatically. We tend to put our own need to be understood first, but this often results in a breakdown in communication we later regret.

References:
Covey, Stephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

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Littaur, Florence. Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself.

Kiersey, David and Bates, Marilyn. Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types

Barbara Wood is a writer and educator living with her family in the Missouri Ozarks.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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