It’s about the immeasurably valuable skill of being able to observe a situation from another’s perspective, detached at least to some degree from one’s own rational and emotional constructs. It’s a skill of particular value in a wide variety of situations related to career. To cite just a few: handling conflict with a colleague, improving your relationship with your boss, persuading clients to accept your point-of-view, pitching yourself for a raise or promotion, or applying and interviewing for positions at other organizations.
In my work over the year with a tremendous variety of clients, I have found that this is a skill that few possess. It may be less a matter of being UNABLE to shift shoes than it is a failure to recognize how important it is to do so. After all, if you don’t understand where the person you’re interacting with is coming from, how can you expect to maximize your ability to make progress with that person?
So, rule number one as it relates to this subject:
Beyond that, though, here are a couple of techniques that can make shifting easier and more powerful:
Tune into them. If you’re feeling very insecure, threatened or angry it is going to be virtually impossible for you to shoe shift. So, in that case, you need to change your emotional channel. One option: “walk away” from the conversation/situation (perhaps literally, but generally metaphorically) by shifting your attention to something else, ideally something pleasant like humming a favorite tune, eating a snack, or texting or calling someone who loves you. Or you could engage in a physical action like slow, deep breathing or even pinching yourself to force your attention to another place.
If, while interacting with someone, you are actually thinking about other things, whether how annoying they are, or what you’re going to say when the other person stops talking, you will never really find out where the other person is coming from, and actually feeling. What’s more, there’s a pretty good chance that the other person will pick up on your lack of attention, and will resent that he/she is not being heard. Focus on the words, the tone of voice, the facial expressions, and the body language of the other person and it’ll be much easier to put yourself in their shoes.
Reflective listening involves repeating back to the person with whom you are speaking the content of the person’s statement(s). It need not be a parrot-like word-for-word repetition but should capture the essence of what was said. To improve your ability, practice this with a friend or colleague and ask if you’ve “gotten it right,” and if not think about how and why you went off track.
Let me leave this topic with this important thought: