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Active Listening: Let the Speaker Fill the Space


Report by Kristine Moe

On Thursday morning, April 30, Los Angeles-based professional coach and actor, and Associate Director of Learning and Development at the USC Marshall School of Business, Joshua Knightley, led a seminar on Active Listening. As managers, Knightley said, we are problem solvers. Sometimes we need to do things quickly, get the problem solved and move on. However, as managers we also need to develop our own people, and let them solve problems on their own. We can do this by honing our “active listening” skills.

Knightley offered three useful phrases and acronyms as key to being an active listener:

1. When a Speaker Becomes R.E.D. (Red, Emotional, Defensive)
2. Adopt a Listening R.OL.E. (Relax, Open Posture, Lean In, Eye Contact)
3. Create an Active Listening A.R.E.A. (Attend, Reflect, Empathy, Ask)

Notice the person’s emotional and physical state. Are words being repeating over and over again? The person most likely feels that s/he is not being heard. Relax and adopt an open posture. Knightley recommended relaxing your jaw and taking on a modified “ohm” stance with open palms. Attend to the person with the appropriate amount of eye contact, and reflect that you have heard what the person has said with a nod, or by repeating a key word that has been stated. Identify the emotion, and more importantly, the value that that the person is expressing. It creates connection and shows the person that s/he is being heard. Ask questions to clarify your understanding of the speaker’s message. Knightley suggested simply prompting with the words, “Tell me more.” Many times just by being listened to and prompted with questions, the speaker will come to her or his own resolution. The speaker needs someone to listen, not necessarily to solve the problem. The speaker needs to feel connected, without feeling threatened.

The seminar ended with volunteers roleplaying active, reflective, and empathic listening as participants watched and responded to the interactions. The question of email communication and venting arose. Knightley said, when it comes to escalating emails, it is best to pick up the phone. In regard to venting, participants agreed that it is better to find a trusted someone outside of the work group (husband, partner, friend, or another member of WIM) to vent to, rather to the work group. It is better to maintain the impression of calm in face of a crisis within the workgroup. The question of apologizing too quickly for a person’s response to a situation arose as well. Although the manager should listen and acknowledge the person’s emotions and words, it is not always appropriate to say, “I’m sorry.”

Joshua Knightley ended the seminar with word of advice: “Be quiet; let the speaker fill the space. Prompt, but don’t fill in with your assumptions.” Knightley suggested that the manager conclude the session with the question, “How would you like me to support you?” Many times a person just needs to share with you and feel heard.

The next HSC WIM Professional Development event is scheduled for May 18: “Speaking and Presenting with Authenticity by Dr. Cardon