4 Autobiographical Responses Leaders Should Avoid

Are you listening to understand or respond?

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who would not listen?

Recently, I had a conversation with someone who would not let me get a word in the conversation. The individual was very upset and she wanted to make sure I knew it.

So, what happened? Well, it had been a very long day and everyone was tired. As we were packing up to go home, this individual decided to let me know how disappointed she was in my leadership. I asked her why was she disappointed?

She didn’t agree with a decision made by our corporate headquarters, which impacted our personnel. For the next 10 minutes, she explained how upset she was and how I didn’t understand what was happening in her department. When she took a breath, I tried to explain the decision and what steps we were implementing to address her concerns.

After the third time of trying to explain the reason behind the decision and what we were trying to do, I just stop trying. Why? Because the individual wasn’t interested in understanding the situation, she only wanted to vent her frustration.

As I sat there half listening, my mind drifted to Stephen Covey’s Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey emphasizes the importance of developing our communication skills, which begins with effective listening.

Now I would love to tell you I am great listener. However, that would not be true. Listening is a skill I work on every day. So why is listening so important? Listening is the foundation of effective communication! Effective listening requires us to “deeply understand another human being” (Covey).

If listening is so important, why are we so bad at it? Because according to Covey, we filter everything we hear through our individual experiences. Covey stated we “listen autobiographically,” which shapes how we respond.

So how do we normally respond to others when we listen autobiographically? Covey offers the following four ways in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

  1. Evaluating: We judge what we are hearing and then we either agree or disagree
  2. Probing: We ask questions, from our own frame of reference
  3. Advising: We give counsel, advice, and solutions to the problem
  4. Interpreting: We analyze others’ motives and behaviors based on our individual experiences

Leaders, avoid autobiographic responses!

To improve on our listening skills, Covey encourages us to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Instead of trying to get our point across, we need to first understand the other person’s position.

As the individual began to calm down, I remember Covey’s 5th habit. Instead of trying to explain the decision, I thanked the individual for sharing her feelings, I also thanked her for trusting me with her frustrations.

The next day, my angry employee greeted me with a smile. While we have not resolved the situation, she was thankful that I listened and acknowledged her concerns.

Are you listening to understand or respond?

Your friend,

Dr. Kim Moore, guiding YOU to lead with confidence!

Dr. Kim Moore

Kim d. moore

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