I recently read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Habit 5 fundamentally changed my life: Seek first to understand then to be understood.
Specifically, the principle within this chapter, Empathic Listening, is what rocked me.
I’ve often lamented that most people in conversations are not listening but instead waiting to talk. They’re not listeners, they’re wait-to-talkers. Two people take turns talking at each other and later say they had a conversation.
Whether this constitutes a conversation is up for debate, but no actual communication took place. Communication is the sending and receipt of a message. If you’re broadcasting and no one is receiving, are you communicating?
I make it no secret that I value effective communication. While I knew I wasn’t perfect, I certainly thought I was doing at least a decent job of listening.
I was wrong. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
What I learned, and will share with you today regarding the principle of Empathic Listening, showed me that I was not listening at all. Even my well-intentioned questions were ill-timed such that they come across as probing! I had no idea until I read this book.
Here I was, thinking I was doing a good job listening, and I was guilty of not just one but ALL FOUR autobiographical responses. In other words, I was actually approaching listening from a selfish frame of reference and feeding my ego—even when I thought I was doing the right things (such as asking questions and repeating what people said). I did not understand even the basics of Empathic Listening.
I’ve since gone through this material many times and applied Empathic Listening in many scenarios to astounding results. It is absolutely incredible—and that’s why I refer to it in the title of this episode as a “superpower”.
But Empathic Listening is hard. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s on par with the difficulty of writing a book. If you ever left an interaction feeling good about the advice you gave and how well you listened, you’re certainly not practicing Empathic Listening.
Empathic Listening is extremely challenging and likely one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do, but it will change your life, make friends, save marriages, close deals, and increase your influence dramatically.