“Why is it so important to listen to people? Why can’t I just tell them what they need to do to stay on course?”
This is a common question I get during speaking engagements. It came up again when I presented to a class of wellness entrepreneurs at the Wellspring College of Allied Health last week. As intelligent, young, health and wellness experts, they do have the solutions for overcoming certain barriers to getting and staying healthy and active. However, they still need to listen.
When we have all the answers – meaning, we actually know how to solve someone’s problem or move them through the next step - it’s hard NOT to begin with telling them what to do. The problem is, when we just tell them, they learn nothing. The brain needs the opportunity to process new knowledge and integrate it into what it has already stored. We can’t learn new behaviors by hearing or writing them down, we actually have to think about them, process them, and perform them.
True leaders truly listen. Real leaders really communicate. And this is how to do it:
Reflect content. People need to know that what they are saying is being heard. If you notice someone repeating the same thing over and over again, it is because they don’t think you understand their point. They may even say, “You don’t understand.” Or, “You never listen to me!” Help people know you are engaged and hearing them by reflecting back the information they are sharing with you. It also allows the person to hear their thoughts in a way that may help them further clarify their ideas.
For the wellness coach, the conversation might look like this:
Client: I really want to look good this summer and I didn’t think I was losing enough weight. So, I looked up quick weight loss and found a diet where I eat a lot of meat and fat and no carbs. I’ve lost five pounds in two days! I’m so excited! I’m pretty tired and crabby at night, but the weight is coming off!”
Coach (warmly and authentically): Your goal is to look good for swimsuit season and with your high protein diet, you’ve lost five pounds already.
Client: Yes! I’m so excited! And it’s worth it to be so tired at night because the weight is really coming off!
Reflect feelings. In addition to knowing people are really listening and hearing the content of our message, they also want to feel that we care about what they’re experiencing. Reflecting feelings is an essential skill in our conversations with clients, employees, coworkers, friends, spouses, and children. Feelings are at the heart of being heard. While it’s important to reflect the feeling as closely as you can, it’s okay if you don’t zero in on the exact emotion - the other person will.
Let’s look back in on the continuing conversation between the wellness coach and his client. Reflecting feelings may look like this:
Coach: It’s really exciting and validating for you to see the weight coming off so quickly. It seems like you’re feeling some frustration that your energy is down and causing you to be a bit crabby at night.
Client: Yes! I love seeing the number on the scale decreasing! I hate being so crabby toward my kids and husband, but this is really important to me. We’re going on vacation and I want to look good on the beach.
Reflecting content and feelings may need to take place several times before the other person is open to exploring options, or receiving new information. When you deliver new information, the key is to say it in a way they can process. This is where questions are important.
Ask open-ended questions. These are questions that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”. They are the best tool for helping others process new ideas. When you are tempted to tell people what to do, reword those thoughts into an open-ended question. Come from a place of authentic curiosity. Sometimes you may need to add information the other person doesn’t have or understand. Then ask a question that helps the person relate that information to the situation.
Coach: So, the weight is coming off, but you’re exhausted. What do you think is making you so tired and crabby? (The coach knows the client needs carbs for energy.)
Client: Well, I’m doing all the exercises regularly that we went over. I even added another round on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Maybe I’m doing too much.
Coach: That could be. What else might be happening?
Client: I don’t know. I just have no energy after 4:00.
Coach: I’m curious… What do you know about the purpose of carbs? (While the coach knows the answer, he is asking a question to encourage the client to think and process.)
Client: I think they provide energy. But they also keep me from losing weight.
Coach: You’re right, they do provide energy. You’re also right that they can keep you from losing weight if you eat too many or the wrong kinds. What do you remember about the kinds of foods that are carbs?
By reflecting content and feelings at the beginning of the conversation, the client is now ready to process what is happening and take in new information. The coach is not telling her what to do, but asking questions that will empower her to come up with the solution herself. By truly listening and engaging with her, the coach has led her client to the next step.
In order to communicate effectively, you must listen actively. If you feel that others don’t truly hear you, or you are struggling with client or employee communication, contact Joy today!