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#WFH: Is the Content or the Feelings More Important?

When you are developing your listening skills, you want to remember that the content of the interaction is much less important than the feeling behind it. One way to help identify with the feelings of another is to reflect those feelings back to the person. The meaning and the message are linked together. By reflecting, we not only acknowledge the person but confirm an attempt to understand what the message is all about. We want to reflect not only the words but the words and the feelings the other person is delivering. This makes listening an even more important tool for dealing with human behaviors. If the person talking thinks the person listening is only playing cat and mouse, then listening will not be very effective. When we reflect back the conversation, we are saying “I acknowledge and under-stand your point of view,” which doesn’t necessarily mean we agree with it but does give an indication of understanding. Reflective listening is not a skill most of us have. It can be acquired. All it takes is practice and willing-ness and it also might require a change in attitude. We want to acquire and convey a sincere interest in the other party. We can reflect in our own words what the speaker seems to mean. This is often called the mirroring technique and means exactly that, reflecting back to the speaker what you heard him/her say. We can restate the speaker’s words aloud, in writing or both. It is the communicating back to the speaker that is important. The ground rule for this is that before we make a point of our own or state something new we want to reflect the point or position of the other person (Rogers & Farson, 1987).

Reflective listening requires us to take the point of view of the other person and define the problem and solution from there. It enhances our relation-ship because it shows we are interested and trying to relate. This gives us a shot at trust and respect. Confrontation, on the other hand, usually shuts relating down. It is difficult for people to admit they are wrong so when we reflect back what the other party said we are showing respect and building understanding. Asking questions, rather than making statements, is always a good approach. Questions are open-ended and statements are absolute. We want to move out of it is my way or yours and into mutual understanding and an agreed-upon approach.

Above all else we want to resist the urge to argue. The temptation to be right and want to be right at all costs is normal for most people but fight it. Keep the conversation open by dodging and weaving. There is an old Charlie Chaplin movie where little Charlie keeps taking small little side steps and outmaneuvering a very large boxer. Eventually the boxer just gets tired and gives up. We might want to try the same approach with reflective listening. We want the other person to come to their own conclusions. It is much more powerful than telling. In reflective listening we emphasize strategically, try to establish a common ground and delay giving our opinion unless it is asked for repeatedly. What we are working toward is empathy and genuine appreciation for the other person’s point of view. Leaders want allies not adversaries. By establishing an interest and a dialogue we have opened the door. In the virtual environment, it is as much about process as content. Content is everywhere. Process can be cut short. We want to keep the con-versation going.

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