This is the sixth in a series of articles about how Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s landmark book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, can be used to create powerful results in your contracting business.
Habit 5 is the habit of what Dr. Covey called empathic listening. It is the skill of listening with the intent to understand rather than listening only with the intent to respond. We’ve all had the experience of talking to someone and it’s obvious that they are not listening — they are just waiting for us to take a breath, so they can resume speaking. And let’s face it. We’ve all done it to others.
This lack of true understanding and communication can cause significant problems in our business. In many ways, the success of our business depends upon our ability to solve problems, but if we aren’t truly listening to customers, employees, suppliers and other stakeholders, it’s impossible to truly understand problems that can negatively impact our business results. If we don’t understand the problem we risk using time and resources trying to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist, which will drain energy, frustrate team members and undermine productivity.
Practicing Habit 5 and learning to listen at a level that allows us to fully understand a problem gives us the best opportunity to effectively solve the right problems in our companies.
For example, suppose employee “Jane” has a conflict with employee “Joe” and brings the problem to your attention. Jane tells you she refuses to work with Joe on an installation because Joe has poor technical skills. You listen quickly to the problem and decide to send Joe to a technical training class, and just like that, you have solved the problem.
As it turns out, you didn’t solve the problem at all. In fact, you solved a problem that did not exist.
Not so fast. As it turns out Jane was not completely candid with you about the reason she refused to work with Joe. In fact, it was not a reflection of Joe’s technical skills at all. The real reason Jane didn’t want to work with Joe was because Jane was offended by inappropriate language and jokes Joe was telling on a jobsite. As it turns out, you didn’t solve the problem at all. In fact, you solved a problem that did not exist. You’ve wasted valuable time, frustrated Joe by sending him to training he didn’t need and watched install productivity go down the drain.
Leveraging Habit 5 could have saved you a lot of brain damage. Empathic listening essentially involves listening to what a person says, then restating back in your own words to ensure you understand what the other person is saying. As you empathize, they continue to speak and you become more likely to get to the root of the real problem.
Suppose when Jane complained about Joe’s install skills you simply stated to her, “So you feel like Joe is hurting the quality of your installations? Can you tell me a little more about the specifics?”
“Yeah, I guess,” she responds. “It’s just that he doesn’t focus on the details.”
“Well,” you say, “I can certainly understand how someone with your concern for quality and details would be bothered by that. Can you give me an example of a detail he overlooks?”
“Well, I mean he’s not too bad about the details, I guess. It’s just that sometimes he says things I think are inappropriate to me and to homeowners. Once he even told a homeowner a really off-color joke. I was shocked.”
“Wow,” you respond, “I’ll have a little chat with Joe about this.”
Now you are in a situation to solve the right problem, and all it took was you agreeing with Jane and keeping her talking. It is very common that when a person comes to us with a problem, many times they will start with a surface issue or distraction and it’s our job to “peel the onion” and get to the heart of the issue.
By getting down to the real issue, you will save a lot of time and avoid a lot of frustration for both you and your team. You truly understand the problem and do what you do best — problem solve.