Empathy and Listening

Resolving conflict and restoring trust among clients might be one of the most difficult things for a manager to do.  Many times, technical people, whether it be salespeople or IT people have trouble with this, and so it goes straight to the manager.  At some point, a client or many clients will become upset with a company; there is no avoiding it.  So, a manager needs to make sure that they understand how to deal with such a conflict.

The eight steps that The Geek Leader’s Handbook outlines for restoring client trust are:

  1. Be prepared.
  2. Get the facts.
  3. Find the feelings.
  4. Let them know you got it.
  5. Dispute the facts (if you must)
  6. Frame the problem.
  7. Handle the feelings.
  8. Handle the problem.

I want to focus on the emotional part of restoring client trust.  There are so many factors that go into this concept, but in my opinion, it all starts with empathy and listening.  In one of the churches that I am currently serving, there is a feud between two patriarchs of the church, one of them is a retired from a long career in the Army, so he is very by the book, dry, and comes across as condescending.  The other is very emotional and has the tendency to just walk out if things don’t go his way.  As you can probably guess, they clash very easily, and apparently this feud has been going on long before I became the pastor there last year.  I truly think that their feud can be resolved, but neither one of them thinks that the others’ feelings are valid.  They refuse to stop and think that they might be wrong, and they don’t want to empathize with each others’ backgrounds to try and understand them.  If they continue to do that, the conflict won’t be resolved.  While this isn’t a manager to client relationship, I think it illustrates how important empathy is.

There are three types of listening that I think one must have in order to hear out an upset customer or an upset co-worker, effective listening, active listening, and empathetic listening.  Effective listening is the listening that goes beyond just opening one’s ears.  It means actually considering what the other person is saying.  Active listening is similar, but it means focusing on listening rather than speaking, providing feedback as well.  Too many people listen in order to respond rather than listen in order to hear.  Finally, empathetic listening means to connect with the person that one is listening to, and to put oneself in their shoes.  This might be the hardest type of listening, because the listener might have to acknowledge that they are or were in the wrong.  To combine all three types of listening means that one can truly understand the customer or co-worker that they are listening to, and they can probably resolve the issue.

All of this really involves emotions, and while it might be easy to say that emotions are only involved in step 3 and step 7, in reality, emotions are involved throughout the whole process.  In many situations, emotions are the problem in the first place, and so they transcend every other step of the process.  So, to fully connect to the upset party, the person needs to be a listener, they need to be empathetic, and they need to try and connect with the person and actually understand where they are coming from.  Generic responses and rushed conversations probably will never work when trying to listen and empathize with someone.  You really have to get on their level and try to understand where they are coming from.  Dunder Mifflin Scranton’s customer service representative, Kelli Kapoor doesn’t do a very good job at this:

In conclusion, conflict resolution and restoring trust among clients really all comes down to understanding, in my opinion.  That means being a good listener and being empathetic of the situation.  It is certainly not easy, but doing that will build relationships and will help a company retain customers in the long run.

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