Be more empathetic with active listening

Active listening requires listening deeply

It's not your turn to speak yet

It can be frustrating, infuriating and even disappointing when others don’t listen to your views and opinions. Everybody has an idea to share yet no-one takes the time to hear yours. So how do you get others to truly comprehend your words, your thoughts and your ideas? Try active listening first.

To communicate more effectively you need to start with listening. Not only will being a deeper listener help you to engage others, it will also allow you to present ideas in ways that resonate more lucidly with your communication partners.

We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.

Listen with your eyes and watch with your ears

When you listen, it has to be more than just waiting for an opportunity to speak. That’s confrontation, not communication. You need to slow down and really take the time to understand what is on  your communication partner’s mind.

One way to be an active listener is to look at the other person as they speak. Take in their posturing. Do they look nervous or excited? Read their body language. Are they swaying or fidgeting? Examine facial expressions. Is there a smile or does their face look strained? There are so many things that are going on inside the person you are speaking with. If you do not take the time to consider their thoughts and feelings, you will be unaware of what they are really expressing to you.

Using your eyes helps to increase your level of empathy  and more actively involves you in the discussion. Let your eyes help you unwrap a deeper meaning to the message than just the words that come from your communication partner’s mouth.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

It's about more than just the words

To be an active listener, you need to consider both what the other person is sharing and why. Why are they saying this now? Why are they saying it in that way? Are they framing the message in a way that will make more sense to you, or are they choosing their words carefully to omit something they do not wish to reveal?

Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communicating is hearing what isn’t said.”

Maybe her words are just coming off the top of her mind. Try to rephrase as a way of ensuring you understand the meaning behind those words. Stopping your partner with an occasional do you mean or are you saying builds trust that you are actually listening to them and helps them to focus their ideas as well.

Ask questions to dig more deeply into their point of view. Once you have the gist of their idea ask more questions to understand it deeply. Get the depth and detail you need to respond in an engaging way.

Gabriella Blum, the Rita E. Hauser Professor of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at Harvard Law School recently talked about the dangers of not actively listening, “By failing to listen carefully and effectively’, she said, ‘we lose important information, act on wrong assumptions, and unnecessarily damage the relationship.”

Communication is what the listener does.

Respond with empathy

Now that you have a clear understanding of your communication partner’s thoughts, frame yours in a way that will be clear and insightful for them. You know their mindset from listening deeply. So you can now present an impactful response that will resonate with them.

Choose your words and phrasing in a way that will engage. Just because you are listening in a laser-focused manner, does not mean that your communication partner is too. In fact, they probably aren’t. So framing your response is even more important.

There are so many ways to say the same thing that presenting your ideas in a way that your conversation partner easily comprehends will make your message more impactful. Stop from time to time to ask, does that make sense or do you know what I mean?

Let them reply to your idea as you build it out. Weaving their ideas into yours, or even better yours into theirs, makes the discussion more collaborative. Even if you do not see eye-to-eye, you will have a better understanding of their views and they of yours. That all starts with listening.

So listen actively. Understand what your conversation partner is feeling and saying before you respond. Then when you do, reply in a thoughtful and insightful way. As you become a better listener you will be a good communicator too.

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Why You Need Art

The Next Time Your Triggered, Try This…

The Power of Silence

The end is just the beginning of your next big thing

Yesterday I made a potato salad. It wasn’t the first time I’d made it, but it was one of the better ones I had created. Why? Because I did something different. I added olives and smashed the potatoes a bit more than usual, giving the salad a creamier texture and more aromatic flavor. I had never done either of those things before. According to my notes, my last attempt was fairly average and uninspiring. I wrote that it needed a bit of a kick. So this time, I decided to try adding the olives. There were no leftovers, so it must be getting better. Still, I wouldn’t say it’s good enough to be a standard recipe quite yet.

Cooking is a great way to start using lessons learned diagnosis in your everyday routine. To do this assessment, you analyze your performance by answering questions that capture what went well and how results could be improved. It doesn’t matter if everything came out better or worse than expected. To grow, you need to understand where you have been and choose some steps for moving forward. The advantage of doing this kind of in-depth analysis is that the time invested in doing deep reflection generally leads to better results the next time around. You can do this regardless of how big or small, personal, or professional the project is. Getting a chance to understand the shortcomings and appreciate your successes will decrease the possibility of repeating failures and increase the odds of duplicating successes.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.

-Albert Einstein

Doing a lessons learned exercise may seem laborious. If you’ve had a difficult time or outright failed, you may want to move on from that bad experience quickly. However, taking a bird’s eye view will help you to comprehend shortcomings and capitalize on incremental improvement. When you have success, celebrate; but also analyze why you were successful and how you can repeat that going forward. Taking some time to deconstruct your success is just as important as evaluating when you fail. Nothing is ever done100% correctly or incorrectly.

Discontent is the first necessity of progress.

— Thomas A. Edison

Here is a list of questions focused on success, challenges, and growth that you can use to self-evaluate and improve your future results. While you do not need to use all of them, getting in the habit of doing the lessons learned exercise, even for a few minutes, will help you to quantify your development and visualize greater success.

Focus on Success

  • What went well?
  • What were the factors that led to success?
  • How can those be replicated in the future?
  • How could I get better at that next time?
  • When could I attempt that again?
  • Who made contributions to your success?
  • Have I thanked them?

Focus on Challenges

  • What could I do better next time?
  • Why?
  • How?
  • What was a challenge I faced?
  • How did I overcome it?
  • What did I learn from that?
  • Where did I miss the mark?
  • Why?
  • How could that be mitigated in the future?

Focus on Growth

  • Something I learned from this was…
  • Something that surprised me was…
  • From that, I learned…
  • What was something new I attempted to meet a challenge?
  • How did that go?

Whatever way you capture your answers, make sure you are able to access that information quickly and efficiently. Answering the questions above makes your analysis into a resource for solving problems in the future and recalling how you have met challenges in the past. Being proactive in considering your results will help you to avoid project amnesia and lead you to more success in the future.

My potato salad is almost good enough to standardize. Doing lessons learned analysis the next few times I make it, I’m sure that it won’t take too many more attempts before I have a winning recipe to share with future generations.

So whether you are cooking a meal or creating a new solution for a client, lessons learned is a great tool to keep improving on your results.

This article first appeared on Medium.com

No Comparison

Why comparing yourself to others is futile and what to do instead

Whenever we evaluate our personal development, we often find ourselves in an underappreciated situation as we compare ourselves to others. There’s no way to be satisfied with those results. There will always be someone better, smarter, and more skilled than we are. If there isn’t, you’re fooling yourself. Our experiences and time commitments are quite different from those around us. As a result, where we see difficulties others may see success. So it is better to measure your success against yourself.

 

Using ourselves and our personal goals as the measuring stick of success allows us to realistically chart our course. We can envision what comes next and the path to move ahead. We can also be more open to seeing others achieve what we seek. We can then be appreciative of their success and offer praise for their well-done work. So how can you become more aware of your progress? It all comes down to three things: measure, communicate and sprint.

 

Set quantifiable goals

Setting quantifiable goals allows you to objectively measure if you are making the mark. These checkpoints can be evaluated with a yes/no answer.  For example: run 3km twice during the week, use a new word you have learned four times in a day, or write 500 words every day for a month. Through the use of these clear goals, you can accurately monitor your progress in two ways.  First, you can readily understand if you have achieved your goal. Secondly, it’s easy to track your progress. If you are using a system like lessons learned – which I discussed in an earlier article – look back to discover opportunities to apply what you had hoped to do. Then, do better next time. You may even try a three step grade: attempted, competent, and confident as a way to honestly evaluate your performance. Write this information down. It will help to motivate you the next time you face a big challenge.

 

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~ Winston Churchill

 

Talk to others

If you’re having difficulty understanding how to succeed or your progress is slow, ask others who have cleared similar hurdles how they did it. This will provide you additional options for success that you may not have considered before. While their situations are undoubtedly different from yours, their approach may be a novel one you never considered. 

Additionally, by talking to others about what you are working to achieve, you create a sense of urgency and accountability to make progress.

“You should never try to be better than someone else, you should always be learning from others. But you should never cease trying to be the best you could be because that’s under your control and the other isn’t.” ~ John Wooden

 

Use the Scrum Approach

I love scrum because it requires the practitioner to break up progress into actionable steps and achieve them one by one. It focuses on making progress in sprints. So, rather than gazing into the unknown, you tackle the milestone you can see. Those sprints require demonstrated proof of concept. With scrum you reach success incrementally. 

 

If you are setting your goals too high, you are probably also expecting to reach those achievements too quickly, and also unsure of exactly how to get there. Using the scrum approach you consider what level of improvement would make a noticable difference (maybe 5-10%) and how to achieve that. Once you have cleared that goal, work on the next big thing to move you forward to your desired level of improvement. Consider all the actionables necessary to achieve that initial goal. Move through them step by step. Then proceed on to the next phase. Just like the proverb says, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

 

In the end, the only way to make true progress is to take it step by step. There are no shortcuts. Don’t feel discouraged because someone else does with ease something you are struggling with. They also struggled with it at some point. Just be ready to put in the work. Stay focused and celebrate your progress. Life is a marathon not a sprint. You should run to complete the marathon, and not just make it up the next hill.

 

“How do you become better tomorrow? By improving yourself, the world is made better. Be not afraid of growing too slowly. Be afraid of standing still. Forget your mistakes, but remember what they taught you. So how do you become better tomorrow? By becoming better today.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

 

5 Reasons to Work With a Coach

Are you stalled-out in achieving your goals? Have you come to a dead-end and don’t know what to do next? If so, a professional coach could be the answer. While you may find yourself wrestling with the idea of paying for something you should be able to do yourself, there are distinct advantages to hiring someone to help you achieve a higher level of success. Here are five reasons to work with a coach.

  1. A coach will take you farther, faster than you could go on your own. 

Coaches have already seen the pitfalls you are experiencing, they have made the mistakes and learned the lessons. As a result, a good coach will help you navigate your way around those obstacles and reduce missteps that could slow your progress by months or years.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear 

– Bruce Lee

  1. A coach will give you objective feedback 

There is no reason for a coach to sugarcoat your feedback. That does not drive results. Instead, they will tell you what they see based on your explanation of the situation and elicit information that will enhance your understanding of what you are experiencing and how to grow from it.

  1. A coach will not let you live a life of excuses 

Coaches are paid for success, your success. If you are not moving the needle, they are not being effective. As a result, a personal development coach is firm but fair. They want you to succeed. Sometimes it may seem like they want it more than you, but in reality, they want it FOR you.

To excel at the highest level — or any level, really — you need to believe in yourself, and hands down, one of the biggest contributors to my self-confidence has been private coaching. – Stephen Curry

 

  1. A coach will understand your situation better than friends or family

Because your coach is a confidant, they will have a clearer picture of your motivation and characteristics that both help you to succeed and appear to sabotage your efforts. Your coach will keep your information confidential and spend time searching for solutions for you, using their experience and network.

  1. A coach is paid to focus on you and your success

 Your coach is invested in you, just as you invest in them. To keep you moving up that slope, they will be thinking long and hard about how to help you, not just while you are in front of them but continuously. That assistance could come in the form of pitching you and your business to their colleagues or suggesting ways to advance your career. I am always on the lookout for opportunities that my clients can fill. Here is one, a website for finding jobs in Japan. That kind of service comes at a price, but its value is immeasurable. After all, two can achieve much faster than one.

A self-taught man usually has a poor teacher and a worse student. 

– Henny Youngman

 

If you are ready to unlock the power to be your best or see the finish line but do not know how to get there, consider hiring a professional coach. Trust that you can achieve your vision. Then find the best people and tools to help you get there. Working with a coach could end up being the best investment you have ever made.

 

Avoid Boring Zoom Meetings

Engaging meetings

6 Tips for Improving Virtual Meetings -

As more and more meetings go online, the world is learning what Silicon Valley has already known for a while now. Virtual meetings save time and money. However, with these savings come tradeoffs. The biggest one being that we just don’t engage with others in Zoom meetings as we did in face-to-face ones. This is a real problem for getting to know your colleagues and building alliances.

In-person meetings provide us stimuli that allow us to understand more clearly not only the information we are hearing but also the reactions of others to it. Like it or not, virtual meetings will be part of our post-shelter-in-place working life. Below are six tips to help you embrace and maybe even enjoy your virtual meeting experiences.

Schedule a social

All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl.

Meetings can be more than business. Try scheduling a virtual coffee break chat or happy hour. Informal gatherings like these allow you to get to know each other and explore a wider variety of solutions to challenges everyone is facing.

Start with a chat

There won’t be any donuts to incentivize you. But, taking a couple minutes to start with an informal discussion about interest, plans, and non-business topics will help everyone to get to know each other a little better and build a good rapport.

Nudge quiet folks to speak up with a private message.

There are always quiet people in the meeting, and encouraging them to speak up through a private message may help to raise their confidence to share their opinions. So remind them of the great idea that they explained to you the other day and ask them to share it with the group.

Be aware that a skilled facilitator will be able to see these comments. So keep a professional tone to them.

Sum up key points visually

Use the chat box to summarize important points of the discussion, capture deliverables, and share files relevant to the topic. That will help with comprehension of the points, especially important when not all participants have the same language skills. These notes will also be downloadable after the meeting. Which will save the minutes taker time in completing their report.

Live questions

Encourage everybody to type questions into the chat box as they arise. There are two benefits to this. First, the speaker can quickly assess what is essential to the audience, making adjustments along the way. Second, participants can ensure they don’t forget their questions, improving the value of the talk for everybody.

Use pictographs 😀

A common complaint people have about virtual meetings is the inability to read non-verbal communication such as body language and tone of voice. Pictographs are a quick and easy way to react in a way that others can understand. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then pictographs are a priceless communication tool in virtual meetings.

Online meetings are about as similar to face-to-face meetings as TV is to the theater. So, don’t expect the same experience. It’s just different. We are only at the beginning of what will be possible in virtual meetings. Learn the technology, adjust your agendas, and experiment with new things. Incorporating social aspects and utilizing the chat box may turn you into a virtual meeting maven.

Here are three other resources for improving your online meetings

What to do When You’re Trapped at Home

Don't just sit at your desk all day

10 Tips for keeping sane while staying at home

 

Regardless how comfortable your space is, it’s no fun having to self-quarantine.

While the world is on lockdown and you are forced to stay at home, a mixture of emotions is probably sweeping over you. At first, you may be feeling excitement at not having to go into the office. Later as the time spent in isolation lengthens, distractions will try your patience as the kids run around the house with pent up energy. Or maybe you’ll feel the urge to give in to your dog’s joy of having you home 24/7. Eventually, however, boredom with the selection from your favorite streaming service will creep in. Don’t take things lying down. Consider this time as a gift.


The earth is using this opportunity to heal itself. Drastic reductions in flights, factory production, and motorists have all resulted in fewer greenhouse gasses in addition to cleaner air and water. Though experts say the results may be short-lived, cities like Venice, Los Angeles, and Beijing are dramatically cleaner for the time being. We should be looking for ways to improve our quality of life too. 


Regardless of your situation, some things are out of your control, such as the regulations requiring you to stay home or the stall in the economy. So it is time you took some action with the things that are in your control. Here are ten ways to stay sane while staying at home.

  • Read a personal development book – There is no time like now to work on becoming a better version of yourself. An hour or two every day of reading or listening to audiobooks will allow you to get through that book during your lockdown. Here are some of my personal favorites.
    • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephan Covey
    • Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
    • The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
    • The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
    • Difficult Conversations – Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, and Sheila Heen
  • Clean your living space – A clean space brings happiness and according to feng shui, good fortune. Take the time to clean out the dust, get rid of stuff you have long since forgotten, and vacuum behind the TV. You will breathe easier, knowing that your life is slightly more organized and dust-free.
  • Exercise – Whether you practice with online videos, have your own routine, or do simple exercise from your living room, getting some kind of physical workout will help you lose weight, improve your circulation and release your feel-good endorphins.
  • Find ways to support local businesses and do some volunteer work – Spread goodness by helping others. Some of the ideas I have seen recently include giving away some of your extra supplies, cooking for neighbors, supporting local businesses by purchasing their gift cards, ordering takeout, or even starting a campaign to help your local restaurants offer meals to those in need.
  • Send thank-you notes – Now is the time to be grateful for the people you have in your life. Send a brief thank-you note or email. It’s a simple way to show your gratitude to the people in your life.
  • Move back burner projects to the front – Take some time to work on those back-burner projects. They are on your list for good reasons. So, using this time to make some real progress on them will help you to get ahead.
  • Resolve to be positive – No reason to be negative in times like these. Turn off the news, avoid drama and paranoia. Put a positive spin on everything. On the other side of this pandemic will be opportunities. Do what you can to set yourself up to win.
  • Have longer conversations – Take some time to interact with your friends and family, either face to face or virtually. Enjoy one of the benefits of slow life: long, drawn-out conversations about everything and nothing.
  • Reconnect – Take time to reconnect with people from your past who have been influential to you. Talk about the impact they have had on your life, about old times, and what is happening now. You will be surprised how quickly the past melts away.
  • Journal, blog, or just write – This is an excellent time to produce your own content. Let yourself reveal those words you’ve always longed to say. Create something new, analyze your past, or just write creative material like poetry, a short story, or a novel.

Above all, find a way to get and stay positive. These tips will help you to do this, but you may want to avoid negativity as well. Stop watching the news and use the World Health Organization’sCOVID live stats, or your national Center for Disease Control’s website to get the facts on what is happening. Find a way to laugh and a reason to smile. Avoid doomsday topics and negative Nellies. Instead, invite positivity and possibility into your home. They are always happy to see you. Then once you are feeling that sense of optimism, share it with the world. We could all use a good dose of that right now.