Do You Really Understand?

I was asked this question after sharing with an employee who was hurting that I understood how she felt. The minute the she said, “Do you really understand!” my heart sunk. Then it hit me, I had just made the #1 listening mistake…sharing that I understood when I had not validated how she felt. Her facial expressions and tone of voice signaled you just think you do. I quickly said, “May I share how I think you feel?” She nodded yes. I said, “You feel scared and unsure of yourself and believe you will be blamed for anything that goes wrong.” She said, “Yes I feel like a scapegoat and dread coming to work every day.”

Fortunately, I quickly recovered and said, “Tell me more.” Then I shut up and listened. Occasionally, I would paraphrase or ask a question to ensure understanding of her intent and emotions. Twenty minutes later, she thanked me for understanding her situation.

Upon returning to my office, I reflected on my poor behavior and asked myself, “Why did I dehumanize her?” The answer was simple; I did not want to listen. I was preoccupied with an upcoming deadline and focused on myself instead of a person in need. Within the first few minutes of hearing her story I began to think to myself, “I don’t have time for this…please hurry up and finish!” The story I told myself drove my emotions and next thing you know I blurted out, “I understand.”

The next time you find yourself not wanting to listen remember there is a cost. When you miss out on key information the organization loses money due to mistakes and wasted time. Besides losing money employees face emotional wear and tear causing relationships to become strained which impacts their performance and productivity.

Remember, when people are understood and trusted they will give their best effort and fully invest themselves in their work.

Listening is the doorway to understanding, bridge to connection and the foundation of trust.

~John Bentley


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