As a teacher of communication skills, Dr. Stephen R. Covey focused on making us all better listeners, not talkers. In fact, he was emphatic about a type of listening he described as empathetic. Essentially, empathetic listening is about understanding and appreciating the other person’s point of view. On his five-level scale of listening behaviors, empathetic listening stands at the top.
Can analytics improve empathetic listening?
Businesses with hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of customers cannot feasibly have an empathetic conversation with each person. So, they designed other ways of getting to know their customers. Partly in recognition of the limited value focus groups offer, and partly because technology has made analytics affordable, businesses today invest heavily in data.
These changes spark another age-old question: Is it possible to hear what someone really wants when you control the questions? Or, in this case, when you predetermine the data? Controlling the questions is what Covey referred to as listening level number three, Selective Listening, two steps away from the desired state.
Analytics provide tremendous value to business, unquestionably. However, they are not a stand-in for empathetic listening, and they don’t provide a road map for trust-building communications strategies. Just like focus groups, analytics keep the company in control, picking and choosing information based on marketing goals. Empathetic listening, however, seeks to understand the whole picture, which doesn’t fit on a spreadsheet.
Trust communication skills matters today
These are times of uncertainty; fear looms heavily and influences what we buy, how we buy, and how we share. Consumers, and employees for that matter, are no longer motivated by marketing messages or new products alone. Communications teams, therefore, need not spend long hours crafting and refining the perfect message. Instead, communicators should find new ways to listen and understand.
Covey’s essential lessons on listening provide a valuable guide for communicators and business leaders who seek to connect with customers in a meaningful way. Interestingly, his book: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a main source of Covey’s teachings about listening, was published in 1989. This is notable because the 80’s and 90’s were a time when mass consumerism drove our economy. Marketing slogans and corporate messages held more sway during that great age of advertising. The fact that Covey chose to focus on listening at a time when telling was effective reveals the originality of his work.
Stephen Covey passed away this week. He will be remembered for his many contributions to business and society. I will remember most his sharpening of the sword, his commitment to finding the kernel of every challenge, and his many ways of demonstrating compassion.