Listen, Empathize, Then Advise
is often a temptation, when listening to others,
to express our opinions about what they have done,
what they could have done, and what they should do.
Often, this stems from a genuine desire to be helpful.
However, unless we are asked, this is usually a mistake.
Even when we are asked, there is something we usually
should do before offering advice.
often feel the urge to respond to people by “fixing
Sometimes people try to fix it by offering reassurance.
“It will all be fine,” they say. Other time
they take over
the conversation by speaking about their own experiences.
“This reminds me of the time when…”
way people sometimes try to “fix it” is by offering
advice and feedback. “Let me tell you why this was
mistake,” they say, or, “Here is what you should
are these responses well-intentioned mistakes?
To start with, the first thing people need in such situations
(that is, when speaking with emotion) is to be heard,
understood and acknowledged. That is, they are seeking
empathy, which is a key component of skillful, heart-centered
listening. They are not open to hear what we have to say
until we have heard them.
his excellent book, The Lost Art of Listening (p. 64), Dr.
Michael Nichols writes:
person telling a casual anecdote doesn’t really
need an elaborate response. However, there are times when
someone has something important to say and doesn’t
want to hear your story until she’s had a chance
to tell what happened to her and how she felt—and
get some acknowledgement.”
is equally true in business. This is from one of my favorite
books on management:
is crucially important for people to feel fully listened
to and understood. When they feel this way, they will
then be ready to hear what you have to say.” - Managing
from the Heart (p. 15)
In addition, until we have listened fully to what the speaker
has to say--until we have listened, and then listened more,
until the speaker is truly complete-- we don’t have
enough information to give advice. So often, the crux of
the issue emerges only towards the end.
In “The Fine Art of Small Talk”, author Debra
Fine has a chapter about mistakes people make in conversation.
One of those is when we respond to people with advice they
did not request. Here is what she writes (page 132):
truth is, most people don’t want advice—they
want empathy and compassion. When advisers ride in on
white horses to save the day, they minimize the very people
they are trying to rescue. They presume that in hearing
tiny snippets of others’ dilemmas, they have an
intimate understanding of their problems and know the
perfect solutions. Advisers would do much better digging
deeper to learn more about the issues and offering support
instead of unsolicited solutions.”
Keep this simple principle in mind and see how much more pleasant
your interactions become.
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2006--2009 Uzi Weingarten