In the previous lesson, we examined why empathy matters so much in communication. We also delineated the myriad benefits of being empathetic in our communication as well as the potentially dire consequences of failing to do so.
In the second segment of this three part lesson, we will look at the first component of empathy, namely empathetic listening.
Take the lesson below to proceed and remember to take the quiz at the end of the lesson too.
This lesson is in video format.
Narrator: This is Kunal. He works in a customer facing role in his organisation. He had been given a warning once in the past because he had received poor feedback from his customers. His life is about to take a turn for the worse…
Boss: Kunal, what is this?Yet again, we have received an e-mail from one of your clients complaining that you are rude when you interact with them; that you appear distracted and shoot your trap off, because you have not listened to the customer completely. How difficult is it for you to be a good listener? When are you ever going to…. This is your last chance. Shape up, or go find yourself another job!
As he is walking, an angel appears…
Angel: Hi Kunal…
Kunal: (startled out of his reverie) Hey, who are you?
Angel: Different people know me by different names; I guess you would call me ‘wisdom’ is English. I know what happened to you at work. I….
Kunal: It’s terrible. I try so hard. I try my best to ensure that my clients are satisfied. But, I always end up making a mistake…(He says this slowly) Now, my boss has threatened to fire me, if I don’t get my act together…
Angel: (In a sympathetic voice) I know… I have been observing you. You know what, your boss is right about one thing. You fail to listen effectively.
Kunal: (In a defensive tone of voice) That’s not fair… I really try…
Angel: I know you do. It’s just that you make some very common mistakes, which many other people do too. I’d like to help you overcome them. What I’d like to do is take you back to your last interaction with the customer, the one where you messed up…
The Angel takes Kunal back in time….
Customer: One can only hear the customer speak in a squeaky voice
Kunal is seated with his arms and legs crossed, and his torso is turned slightly away from the customer. Though he is looking at the customer.
Angel: Pause! First things first. Your posture here is inappropriate. Your posture sends out the signal that you are ‘closed’ to the customer.
Kunal: What do you mean by that?
Angel: One: you have crossed both your arms and your legs. Two: if you notice here, your torso is angled towards the customer. This posture of yours somehow does not give the customer the impression that you are open to what the customer is saying. It does not give the individual the feeling that you are listening.
Kunal begins to take down notes and also looks at his laptop screen as the customer is speaking…
Angel: Pause! There you are… you have broken off eye contact with the customer and are looking at your laptop screen… Never do that.
Kunal: (in a defensive voice) But, I was only trying to get the information that the customer was seeking from my computer.
Angel: That’s correct… I know that is why you were looking at your computer screen. But, does your customer know that?
And if you want to do that, then inform the customer what it is that you are doing. Don’t break off eye-contact with the customer during an ensuing conversation.. That is just rude… You need to look the speaker in the eye… and nod occasionally to convey that you are understanding what he or she is saying.
Kunal: Oh, ok…
Angel: And, if you have to make notes, make them brief. Remember to maintain eye-contact with the speaker at all times.
The customer continues to speak… Kunal does as the angel commanded him to; he looks the customer in the eye and nods occasionally. But, midway, his attention begins to drift off. He begins to think about the dinner plans that he has made with his friends for the evening. He begins thinking about food…
Angel: Kunal, Kunal…. Wakey-wakey… Stop day dreaming… Focus on what the customer is saying… Do not allow yourself to get distracted. This is one of the prime reasons we make so many mistakes in our work… we simply do not pay attention completely.
So, when the customer is speaking, ensure that you put all distracting thoughts aside. Give the customer your complete attention. Even if the customer is going on and on and on… Listen.
Kunal does as the angel commanded him to; he looks the customer in the eye and nods occasionally. The customer drones on and on, but Kunal listens. But, soon a fly starts buzzing around his head… He gets distracted…
Angel: Pause… Kunal, I know that the fly is an irritant. However, you just missed some important details that the customer just shared with you. Do not let anything distract you from the customer; not your thoughts and not even environmental factors.
If something in the environment is really being a major irritant, then excuse yourself from the customer, deal with the irritant and then get back to the customer. When you get back to the conversation, offer an apology for having made the customer wait.
Kunal nods in agreement.
Kunal: Thanks. I’ll bear that in mind.
The conversation continues, Kunal does as the angel commanded him to; he looks the customer in the eye and nods occasionally. The customer drones on and on. But, Kunal keeps listening…
Kunal: Notices that the customer’s bag has a slight tear in it. He then begins to visualise the customer as being from the economically weaker section of society. He soon, loses interest in the customer… he yawns…
Angel: Kunal, time to freeze frame again… I have observed you commit this error in the past, as well. You tend to develop biases towards people based on their appearance, their accents or even their ethnicity. That is terrible!
As someone in a customer facing role, you need to treat every customer with respect. And, please do not let appearances fool you. Many millionaires in this world will dress in a very ordinary manner. Listen to them without holding any biases or prejudices about them. Suspend your judgment about them till you are sure that you have all the facts down to the T… And by the way, that tear in the bag that you noticed, that happened today, when the customer’s bag scraped against a nail in the basement of your office building.
Kunal: Oh, I did not know that
Angel: That is why I say that you should suspend all judgment till you get all the facts right.
Kunal: Sorry, Kunal sounds genuinely apologetic
Angel: Chuckles… You are forgiven. Just make sure that you remember this lesson always.
Kunal: (Smiles) I will.
The conversation continues, Kunal does as the angel commanded him to; he looks the customer in the eye and nods occasionally. The customer drones on and on. But, Kunal keeps listening… However, as the customer is speaking, a thought call out shows Kunal preparing a response to what the customer is saying… the thought call out reads (“Hey that detail is wrong. How can the customer accuse us of doing something like that. I must interject and correct the customer”)
Angel: There you go again!
Angel: The classic mistake that many of us make… we fail to listen to the complete content of our customer’s speech. No, we don’t do that. Instead, we begin formulating our responses in our mind without gathering all the facts.
Kunal: but, the customer was stating the wrong facts.
Angel: In fact, you are wrong about that. If you had heard the customer out completely, you would have realised that she was only stating that the market perception of your Organisation is that, but that the customer himself/ herself did not subscribe to that view. However, since you had stopped listening to the customer, you missed out on that part.
And, had I not stopped you, you would have gone on to accuse your customer of being wrong; of being overly harsh in criticising your organisation; when the customer was himself/ herself speaking well of your Organisation.
Kunal: Oh, I did not realise that.
Angel: and why did you not?
Kunal: Because I did not listen to the entire content of what the customer was trying to tell me. Instead I was preparing my responses before the customer finished speaking.
Angel: So, what will you do the next time?
Kunal: I’ll wait for the customer to finish speaking, understand clearly what the customer is saying, before responding to his comments.
Angel: That’s good.
Though, in addition to waiting for the customer to finish, there is one other thing that you need to do before you respond.
Kunal: What’s that?
Angel: Paraphrase your understanding of the customer’s need, confirm if your understanding of what the customer has said is correct, and then construct your response. Doing so will ensure that you have not misunderstood what the customer is seeking from you. Your response will then be a lot more accurate.
Kunal: thanks. Any other lessons for me?
Angel: Yes, there is one last lesson, which I want to share with you.
Sometimes, you may have asked a question and the customer’s response may not be along the lines of the response that you are expecting.
In such a situation, avoid the temptation to disconnect from listening to what the person is saying to rephrase your question (or interject and stop the person from what he is saying). If you do not interrupt, the customer might end up giving you some more important information that may not be mentioned to you otherwise.
So, wait for the customer to finish and only once the customer is done, rephrase your question.
Kunal: That sounds good. I’ll bear that in mind.
The conversation continues, the customer says something seemingly innocuous, but in a lower tone of voice. She also turns her head away as she speaks. She looks sad. Kunal though notices nothing. His facial expressions are the same.
Angel: Freeze frame (The customer’s face with the sad expression) Hey buddy, did you just hear what she didn’t explicitly speak, but did effectively communicate?
Kunal: What? What is that supposed to mean?
Angel: Did you notice the tone of her voice and her facial expressions?
Kunal: what about them?
Angel: Kunal, my friend, when listening, focus not only on the words, but also on the tone of her voice. It conveys a lot. Also, you need to learn to listen with your eyes. Keep a keen eye out for the customer’s body language and facial expressions; they communicate many messages by themselves.
Look at this picture of the customer. What does her face express?
Kunal: Mmmm… sorrow?
Angel: That’s right. Sorrow. She is sad about something…. And you have to respond to that.
Kunal: So, what do I do?
Angel: Acknowledge the customer’s feelings. Let the customer know that they have a right to feel that way. Importantly, let your own expressions mirror that of the customer. Avoid adopting a deadpan expression.
Now, what will you say to the customer, in this situation?
Kunal: Mrs. Customer, you have a right to feel that way (Kunal’s expressions shows compassion. The customer smiles)
Angel: Remember, you have got to listen with your ears and with your eyes.
Kunal: Thanks. I will remember that.
Angel: Do so. Now, would you recap all the lessons that I have shared with you today?
One – Maintain an open posture
Two – Maintain eye contact with the customer at all times. If I have to make notes, I keep them brief.
Three – I should not day-dream as the customer is speaking
Four – I need to ensure that I do not get distracted by environmental factors.
Five – I listen, without allowing any personal biases or prejudices to cloud my judgment
Six – I plan my response only after the customer is done speaking.
Seven – I need to paraphrase my understanding of what the customer has said or is asking, before responding
Eight – Even if the customer’s response is unsatisfactory, I wait for the customer to complete speaking before rephrasing he question.
Nine – I listen with my ears and with my eyes