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#WFH: Are You Connecting With the Other Person?

Responsive listening changes the way two people relate. It shifts the dynamics of control and opens up new possibilities. Connecting with other people virtually takes skill. Active listening and reflection are only the first two steps. Responsive listening is being willing to let go of your own ideas and delivering and defending your own agenda so that you can identify with and validate the other person’s ideas at least enough to connect with them. Managers often feel the need to function as the judge and the jury. This sense of judgment of the person or the situation as either good or bad or right or wrong sets up our interactions. If we judge the other person as good, we want to connect with them and we value their input. If we judge them as bad, we want to defend our own position and find ways to diminish their input. This sets up the paradox of control. The paradox of control is believing that we can control others by speaking and acting. In reality, we can only control ourselves. When we want to control the outcome and defend the cause, we find strategies to attack or attempt to change the other person. When we want to connect, we want to get closer to the other person, support them and collaborate with them. Listening and waiting are more powerful but less obvious ways to gain influence. The important point is that to respond and not react we need to be present.
Presence is the only way to experience empathy with another. Empathy is a critical ingredient in understanding. Sympathy seeks to control but empathy requires a certain degree of emotional distance. Responsive listening requires stepping out of the ring long enough to detach from anger, fear and anguish. Responding is about overseeing our thoughts may be experiencing anger, fear, pain and/or desperation. It is very difficult to manage strong negative emotions and respond in a way that supports connection. Empathy gives us the distance to respond and not react, which is the first step to aligning our connections (Gillies, Pan, Slater & Shawe-Taylor, 2004).

When we use responsive listening, we listen for particular material. First, we listen for emotions, feelings and emotional experiences. This puts us in touch with the persona at a very different level than just understanding the facts. Second, we listen for self-concept. This is how people view themselves, with a focus on self-evaluation. Finally, we listen for motivations and defenses, wishes and fears by tuning in to the dynamic elements of the conversation and connecting the dots. We want to identify the state of a person’s “identity capital” which tells us “how they do what they do and who they are.”

Many times, we are listening for things the per-son may not be aware of themselves. These underlying self-concepts are internal and exist within every person. However, and this is important, we do not listen with the idea of associating or judging in any way what the other person does or how they feel with internal motivation such as passions, desires or meanings. Our reason for listening responsively is only to determine what exists. Responsive listening is interested in listening for the self-concept with-out judgment.

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