We know rudeness gets in the way of relating to others at work. But even common, well-meaning responses can block us from connecting with others. Being present and truly listening enhances collaboration with others, improves our leadership abilities, and helps us make meaningful connections with those around us. What can we do to improve our ability to listen and connect with others at work?
10 Common Barriers to Connection
Here are ten common ways we prevent ourselves from being present and truly listening to others. This list was originally compiled by empathy expert Holley Humphrey. Which of these do you find yourself engaging in most often?
- Advising: “I think you should…”
- One-upping: “That’s nothing; wait’ll you hear what happened to me.”
- Educating: “This could turn into a very positive experience for you if you just…”
- Consoling: “It wasn’t your fault; you did the best you could.”
- Story-telling: “That reminds me of the time…”
- Shutting down: “Cheer up. Don’t feel so bad.”
- Sympathizing: “Oh, you poor thing…”
- Interrogating: “When did this begin?”
- Explaining: “I would have called but…”
- Correcting: “That’s not how it happened.”
We know these barriers well – some may even feel automatic or helpful. They are so familiar we hardly see the invisible walls they build between people. How can we remove these barriers and genuinely connect?
Removing the Barriers
Spark empathy by listening for the feeling or need the person is experiencing in that moment. Try to paraphrase their words and speak to the feeling or need they are expressing. This shows respect for the other person and helps them feel heard and understood.
For example, a coworker shares with you that they hardly slept all weekend because they were so worried about a presentation Monday morning. Which response will make them feel heard? A) “It sounds like work has been so stressful for you lately that it’s hard to relax.” or B) “Relax! It could be worse! Maybe you could try meditating.”
While neither response is wrong, the first response would show a deeper level of listening to your coworker. This kind of response encourages your coworker to share more about their experience which strengthens your connection.
Something to Try: “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There”
Notice if these barriers have become automatic reactions in yourself and those you interact with regularly. The next time you are listening to someone at work, resist the knee-jerk tendency to respond with one of these barriers. Instead, try to just be present with the person. As the Zen saying goes, “Don’t just do something, stand there”. If you notice these barriers show up in the conversation, listen carefully for the person’s feeling or need.
Danielle Metzinger is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.