Guidelines for Active Listening and Reflection

Studies from over twenty-five years of experience with non-directive interviewing in industry have produced a series of guides for empathetic listening. For a manager the most useful of these guides are:

1. Listen patiently to what the other person has to say, even though you may believe it is wrong or irrelevant. Indicate simple acceptance, not necessarily agreement, by nodding or perhaps injecting an occasional “mm-hmm” or “I see”

2. Try to understand the feeling the person is expressing, as well as the intellectual content. Most of us have difficulty talking clearly about our feelings, so it is important to pay careful attention.

3. Restate the person’s feeling briefly, but accurately. At this stage you simply serve as a mirror. Encourage the other person to continue talking. Occasionally make summary responses such as, “You think you are in a dead-end job”, or “You feel the manager is playing favorites.” In doing so, keep your tone neutral and try not to lead the person to your pet conclusions.

4. Allow time for the discussion to continue without interruption and try to separate the conversation from more official communication of company plans. Do not make the conversation any more “authoritative” than it already is by virtue of your position in the organization.

5. Avoid direct questions and arguments about facts; refrain from saying, “That is just not so”, “Hold on a minute, let’s look at the facts”, or “Prove it.” You may want to review evidence later, but a review is irrelevant to how a person feels now.

6. When the other person touches on a point you want to know more about, simply repeat his statement as a question. For instance, if he remarks, “Nobody can break even on his expense account”, you can probe by replying, “You say no one breaks even on expenses?” With this encouragement he will probably expand on his previous statement.

7. Listen for what is not said, evasions of pertinent points or perhaps too-ready agreement with common cliches. Such an omission may be a clue to a bothersome fact the person wishes were not true.

8. If the other person appears to genuinely want your viewpoint, be honest in your reply. In the listening stage, try to limit the expression of your views since these may influence or inhibit what the other person says.

9. Do not get emotionally involved yourself. Try simply to understand first and defer evaluation until later.

10. BE QUIET. Let the other person talk. Actively listen to what THEY have to say.