Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

woman manager listening to staff member

Begin with the end in mind.

The role of an authentic leader is not understanding how to move an organization forward. The journey towards authentic leadership begins with being mindful of what’s going on in the lives of your team.

People often confuse the concept of mindfulness with the idea that one should stop and smell the roses. However, having your nose stuck deep into a flower in a field with an angry bull bearing down on you would be the exact opposite of being mindful. Put simply, mindfulness is a state of mind in which you are fully conscious and engaged in the present moment.

Leaders need to be mindful when communicating with employees; they need to be able to look through the employees’ eyes. Empathetic listening and responding will take a conversation to a much deeper level.

Empathetic communication is rooted in a few key principles.

Principles of empathetic communication involve listening with an open mind and being mindful. Cultivating empathy in the workplace is a skill that connects you with people’s passion and their uniqueness, and it inspires a workplace environment that goes beyond compliance to engagement. When the root of communication is empathy, the results are kindness, compassion, respect, and understanding. Develop these habits of empathetic communication:

  1. Give undivided attention. Truly hear what is being said.
  2. Observe body language. Pay attention to emotions.
  3. Encourage the conversation. Nod your head in understanding; use occasional short phrases of acknowledgement, such as “yes” or “I see.”
  4. Ask questions. Don’t make assumptions. Repeat what you’ve heard as a question to ensure clarity, understanding, and connection.
  5. Be non-judgmental as you listen.
  6. Follow up to keep building the relationship.

Most communication problems begin with differences in perception. To resolve these differences, one must exercise empathy, seeking first to understand the other person’s point of view, then to be understood.

Have a deeper understanding that everyone has stuff going on in their lives because once they know you care, they will be far more motivated to care about what you know.

Use the following chart to evaluate your communication skills.


Originally published in The NLOWE Advisor on July 30, 2022.