In business coaching, business training, Führung, Kultur

This month’s, and maybe beyond, topic is empathy: What is it? How does it contribute to psychological safety? How do you develop it? etc..

Today I would like to talk more about how to build empathy by using active listening in combination with asking questions. Incidentally one of the hardest things for most people about active listening is the actual listening. As mentioned in the initial article, many societal influences drive people to be more focussed on what they want to say, rather than hearing what the other person is staying.

This makes active listening difficult. It also affects leaders ability to have conversations where their counterpart can have enough space to speak.

As a rule of thumb, giving your counterpart a ~70% share of the conversation in terms of speaking is a good amount in order to be able to find out what is driving the other side.

Asking questions can make active listening easier.

They can provide space for our conversation partner and yourself. They offer a way to find out information you may not have received otherwise.

When I talk about making space, I am not talking about closed questions. They have their good uses and can narrow down a wide field. But they do not make space in a conversation for another person’s view.

Using questions that help building that bridge to your conversation partner, help finding out information, help making space in the conversation for others opens doors.

Different varieties of open questions will do this for you.

You’ll find some I use routinely here:

  • for breadth: What are your thoughts on this approach? What is your assessment of the current situation? How was your first day at work?
    • They widen the field and can cover a wide breadth or topics.
  • for depth: What exactly caused the system to react in this way? What are the main issues related to this concern?
    • They narrow the field down to a certain degree and avoid single word answers.
  • for perspective change: What do you think xy would do in this situation? How do you think your customer(s) want to do? How do you think your supplier would resolve this?
    • They give the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective, and, in some cases, more creatively.
  • for solution orientation: How would you solve this issue? What will your customer see if this project succeeds?
    • These questions can help focus people on solutions, rather than problems.
  • for out-of-the-box thinking: What do we need to do to make things worse? What needs to happen to make this project fail?
    • These questions are so different from what others may expect, they can help people out of problem-focussed thinking and help them stop catastrophising.
  • for creativity: If money was not object, what would you do? If your team got along, what could they achieve?
    • This can achieve a focus on what the best solution would be, in order to then tailor that to what is realistically possible, instead of having potential solutions thrown out too early in the process.
  • for measurability: On a scale of 1 to 10, where do you see your current engagement and where do you want to see in in a years time? On a scale between 1 and 10, where would you have put their teamspirit 6 months ago, compared to now?
    • These questions can provide a certain level of measurability and measure of success, while also getting other people’s opinion.
  • and so forth and so on…..

Using questions as a way to build understanding of someone else’s experience and point of view will support you strengthening your empathy.

They are also a great method to make sure the other person can speak and you can focus on listening to their answers.

Enjoy! If this has taken your fancy, get in touch. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Business coaching and training Hamburg native English and German Cary Langer-Donohoe