Previously, we took a deep dive into developing self-awareness, and how important it is as one of the foundations of Emotional Intelligence, an essential quality of a leader. But this is only one of six components of Emotional Intelligence as outlined by Genos International, and in this blog, we’re going to dive deep in the next component that follows it: being aware of others.
It’s one thing to be aware of one’s fluctuating emotions to be able to mindfully react to them the best way possible, but it’s another to be aware of what others are feeling. It’s popularly known as the phrase, “reading the room.”
There are a plethora of aspects when it comes to being aware of the people around us, for example, it may mean being able to observe the non-verbal signals people give that indicate how they are feeling. This includes tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, eye movement, speech and breathing characteristics. It also involves perceiving the impact you or someone may have on another person in different interactions, whether in meeting or in interacting with clients. Being aware of others also comes in hearing people when they are expressing their emotions without invalidating them. It means being able to as how they feel, understand where their feelings may be coming from, and so much more.
All of this really boils down to empathy, or the ability to put one’s self in others’ perspective. The more empathetic you are, the easier it is for you to be aware of others. And the more aware you are of others, the better decisions and actions you can take when it comes to dealing with them. But empathy isn’t something that you develop overnight, it’s something you develop with practice, a lot of trial and error, and experience.
A big part of being aware of others and of developing empathy is actively listening. Active listening is all about listening attentively to someone, understanding what they’re saying, and retaining the information for later. An active listener isn’t trying to evaluate the message and offer their own opinion, but instead simply make someone feel heard and validated.
After all, Stephen Covey wrote in his book, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, that one must seek first to understand before being understood. When you’re talking with a friend, a co-worker, or a boss, you don’t like awkward silence. It’s human nature to talk and to fill in the “gap of silence.” But if your tendency always is to talk, then you might be missing out on what the other person is actually saying. You might miss his wants and needs, desires and fears. But if you listen first and talk later, then you will be able to provide a more focused and targeted response to the person you’re talking to. In other words, we can better connect with the other person — which allows you to build an awareness of the other person.
This is especially important in the remote setting where actual human interaction is greatly limited. You need to have a special kind of mindfulness towards others as every action, word, and expression is amplified all the more, and this goes both ways: within yourself and in recognizing it in others. If you’re a manager of a team, you’re always going to be speaking with your members, and it is your responsibility to actively listen to them.
Here are six key active listening skills, as outlined by the Center for Creative Leadership:
- Pay attention.
Allow “wait time” before responding. Don’t cut others off mid-speech, finish their sentences, or start formulating your answer before they’ve finished. Pay attention to your body language as much as you should to theirs when engaging in active listening. Be focused on the moment, make eye contact, and operate from a place of respect as the listener.
- Withhold judgment.
Even when good listeners have strong views, they suspend judgment, hold any criticisms, and avoid interruptions like arguing or selling their point right away. Withholding judgment is a key element to empathy.
Mirror the information and emotions you’re receiving. Reflecting is an active listening technique that indicates that you and your counterpart are on the same page.
Don’t be shy to ask questions about any issue that’s ambiguous or unclear when engaging in active listening. As the listener, if you have doubt or confusion about what someone has said, say something like, “Let me see if I’m clear.” or “Sorry, I didn’t follow you.”
Open-ended, clarifying, and probing questions are important active listening tools that encourage the coachee to do the work of self-reflection and problem solving, rather than justifying or defending a position, or trying to guess the “right answer.” When engaging in active listening, the emphasis is on asking, rather than telling. It invites a thoughtful response and maintains a spirit of collaboration.
Restating key themes as the conversation proceeds confirms and solidifies your grasp of the other person’s point of view. It also helps both parties to be clear on mutual responsibilities and follow-up. Briefly summarize what you’ve understood while practicing active listening, and ask the other person to do the same. Giving a brief restatement of core themes raised by the member might sound like: “Let me summarize to check my understanding…” and then follow it up with what you might have talked about
Restating key themes helps increase accountability.
Active listening is first about understanding the other person, then about being understood as the listener. As you gain a clearer understanding of the other person’s perspective, you can begin to introduce your own ideas, feelings, and suggestions. You might talk about a similar experience you had, or share an idea that was triggered by a comment made previously in the conversation.
Once the situation has been talked through in this way, both you and your member have a good picture of where things stand. From this point, the conversation can shift into problem-solving: What hasn’t been tried? What don’t we know? What new approaches could be taken?
As the coach, continue to query, guide, and offer, but don’t dictate a solution. Your member will feel more confident and eager if they think through the options and own the solution.
Eventually, when you learn to actively listen towards one person, you learn to listen towards more people, to a team, and eventually the ENTIRE team. Go even further and you may start listening to your entire micro and macro social web, thus gaining their trust and have more opportunity for collaboration. Listening can go a long way in developing that awareness for others.
Being A Little More Human Everyday
Once you’ve had a grasp of your own self-awareness and of others, of what they’re saying or not saying, you can then take the next step by effectively expressing yourself clearly and effectively, which we’ll talk about in our next article.
But for now, feel free to check out us leadership courses and other resources on our website!