A Tech Support Manual for Problems with People Part 2

Yesterday, I explained the first tool of your communication and management toolbox: monitoring your own attitude.

The second tool: Engage in active listening. 

When tempers flare, we each may have a strong desire to impress our needs and opinions on the other. By first focusing on understanding the other’s viewpoint, you help calm the situation and increase the likelihood that you’ll be heard later. Here are active listening tips:

  • Devote full attention to the person speaking. Don’t multi-task, take phone calls or look at papers or email. In some circumstances, taking notes may be OK.
  • Engage in self-management. Don’t plan your response or rebuttal, go to judgment, let your attention wander, or get impatient or irritated. Don’t interrupt or complete the speaker’s sentences. Don’t let your attitudes or opinions interfere with your ability to hear. This is the time for just listening.
  • Watch and listen for clues to the speaker’s feelings. Notice the speaker’s body posture, gestures, facial expression, voice volume, cadence and intonation. Be aware of the information such cues convey.
  • Signal that you are listening and interested.  Make eye contact. Perhaps lean in slightly, but at least don’t lean back or away. Don’t be stone-faced. Nod or let your facial expressions indicate that you are tracking what they are saying. Give verbal tracking signals, such as “Uh-huh,” “Hmm,” “I see,” or “OK.”
  • Ask for clarification if you don’t understand.  Be careful to keep your tone supportive, cooperative, curious or at least neutral. Too many clarifying questions can come across as grilling. It’s not a deposition.
  • Reflect what you heard and check for accuracy. Paraphrase what you heard to assure the speaker that you tracked and understood what they said. Let your paraphrasing reveal the meaning that you understood, not just the words you heard. Ask for validation that you captured the concepts correctly, and listen for their correction or refinement of the message.
  • Acknowledge feelings. If the speaker exhibits feelings (i.e., anger, frustration, anxiety, hurt, excitement, pride), acknowledge the feeling. Feelings can be the most important content of the message, and if you ignore or don’t acknowledge them, the speaker may not feel understood.

Practice these things during every conversation. Tomorrow: how to handle touchy issues, whether you see them coming or not.

Featured image: “Business people discussing in meeting at office” from Shutterstock.

About Debra L. Bruce

Debra L. Bruce is President of Lawyer-Coach LLC, which provides executive coaching and training for lawyers on leadership and management, team effectiveness, time management, business development and social media. Having practiced law for 18 years followed by coaching for 14 years, she’s in frequent demand as a speaker and writer on law practice management topics. Debra is on the ABA Law Practice Division’s Law Practice magazine board and the Division’s Career Paths Task Force. She has also served as the Vice Chair of the Law Practice Management Committee of the State Bar of Texas and the Chair of the Houston Bar Association’s LPM Section. Debra was the first lawyer in Texas credentialed by the International Coach Federation, and served as the leader of its Houston chapter.

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