What did you say?

How good are your listening skills?

Apr 18 2018

Be Human. Think Digital.

“Be Human, Think Digital” is the tagline of DrupalCon 2018, held in Nashville, Tennessee, where I had the privilege of delivering my presentation titled “It’s Not Personal. It’s Just Business: Understanding the Value of Empathy in Teams.” As I’m passionate about both technology and wellbeing in the workplace, I was thrilled to combine my skills to deliver a talk catered to ‘being human’ at a technology conference. Merging these two tracks is what sets the Drupal community, and conference, apart from other tech events I have attended. During my presentation I talked about what role empathy plays in the workplace, the three traits that an empathic person possesses, and how to manage boundaries with empathy, to avoid burnout. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, or to be able to put yourself in their shoes. An empathic leadership style can make everyone feel like a team, which leads to increased productivity, morale and team cohesiveness. Having empathy for your clients helps to build trust and strengthen relationships, which results in repeat business. Empathy is both something we are born with and a learned skill that can be cultivated.

Openness. Understanding. Listening.

The three traits that an empathic person typically displays are openness, understanding, and listening. Being open means to put aside assumptions and to challenge your prejudices when interacting with another person. To be understanding is to have curiosity about others, and asking for clarification when you need it. Listening means to be present with another person; to listen more than you speak, and to refrain from interruptions or problem solving when someone is sharing something with you. Towards the end of the session we broke into pairs to practice active listening skills. If you are tuning into the presentation, the exercise starts at 47:45, however it did not make it into the recording in its entirety. This exercise is something you could try at your company during a group workshop, led by a facilitator, so here’s how it goes:
  1. The facilitator is responsible for explaining the exercise and for time keeping.
  2. Get into groups of two. If there is an odd number, then you can team up in a group of three.
  3. The topic at DrupalCon was for people to think of something they can do to encourage a culture of empathy in their workplace. (You can choose any topic relevant to your organization for this exercise.)
  4. The first person to talk will share their idea with their partner for one minute. The partner (the listener) is to practice their active listening skills. I.e. to be present, avoid interruptions and offering advice. To take it one step further, the person listening should practice sitting still, maintain eye contact but refrain from nodding or offering sounds of agreement, such as ‘yeah’ or ‘uh-huh’ etc.
  5. After one minute then switch and allow the first person to take on the role of listener.
  6. Afterwards, you can ask your workshop attendees for feedback about the experience as both the speaker and listener.
Now I won’t share why I suggest that the listener take their listening skills one step further by refraining from nodding or expressing acknowledgement to their partner, because that would spoil the point of the exercise! You can contact me if you want to know more. The feedback received after my presentation at DrupalCon shared a common theme: people realized how challenging it was to be fully present and to listen to another person. It’s understandable because we are so easily distracted in today’s fast-paced world. However, with practice you can fine-tune your listening skills and by modelling empathic behaviour, you can make a difference in your work and personal life. Try it out and see how others start to respond to you. You can listen to the full presentation here.

Main photo by Alvan Nee on Unsplash

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