Bob Chapman_SocialCapital
"Listening to understand and validate, not to judge and argue. This is the greatest of all leadership skills in our business, home and communities," says Bob Chapman. Barry-Wehmiller

In a previous article for International Business Times, I wrote that the only thing we've been told to "care" about in business is making the numbers work.

With this mentality, we end up treating the people we lead as numbers -- mere functions for the organization's success.

However, we keep seeing over and over -- especially in the current recruiting and hiring environment -- that this way of doing business is not only wrong, it's unsustainable. It isn't enough anymore to just "care" about the numbers. You have to care about your people, first.

How do we teach leaders to care? It begins with something that seems so simple and something everyone initially thinks they do well.


Listening to understand and validate, not to judge and argue. This is the greatest of all leadership skills in our business, home and communities.

I think it's pretty well accepted and said fairly often that better listening skills could solve a lot of problems in our society.

But if listening is so simple -- across the board in our country and in our world -- why do all the interpersonal problems we have in business and our daily lives still exist? Why aren't we able to do a better job?

Because we listen in order to respond. Because we fail to listen to understand. Because we are not listening empathetically.

Think about most educational curriculum. We teach speech and debate, but the most important of all communication skills is listening. This is very rarely taught or even considered. Therefore, we have a society where we debate, argue and judge, not listen.

Listening isn't doing nothing; it's doing something -- and it's something very active and specific -- in service to others. It is a human skill that that is critically needed in all aspects of leadership. And in our experience at Barry-Wehmiller, it is the one skill that has truly changed the lives of the people within our span of care.

It's not about hearing what the other person is saying, but more deeply understanding what they feel, or the message behind their words. When someone feels heard by you, you have let them know that they matter.

Everyone is born with unique attributes and has a personality type that creates a lens through which they experience the world. Two people can see exactly the same situation and see it entirely differently.

True empathetic listening -- where one actually hears the other person's words and feelings -- is the kind of listening that builds empathy as it allows us to see things from others' perspectives. It's the key to all meaningful relationships as it shows that you respect and care for the person you're hearing.

If you want to be a caring leader, you have to really understand the proper way to listen. The way we actualize caring is through empathetic listening.

How can we build trust and show respect and understand one another unless we know what the other person is thinking and feeling? Listening skills are the foundation for trust.

Learning to listen to each other has been fundamental to transforming managers into leaders at Barry-Wehmiller. People are capable of doing amazing things when we foster an environment in which they have a voice; are granted respect and dignity; and are allowed to discover, develop, share, and be appreciated for their gifts in pursuit of the organization's shared purpose. And that comes through empathetic listening.

Many years ago, we instituted a communications skills class we call "Listen Like a Leader" in our company's internal university.

I've written quite often about the transformative effect of this foundational course on our team members. The most consistent feedback we get from our team members after they've taken the class is that it changed their lives. I've seen people cry as they share how the course saved their marriage. And I know it is the answer to many issues our society is facing.

My wife, Cynthia, recognized the importance of these classes and challenged us to find a way to share them with the world outside Barry-Wehmiller. So, she and I founded the Chapman Foundation for Caring Communities, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing these skills to communities. CFCC has offered our communications skills training to community members, emergency responders, healthcare workers and teachers in Charleston, S.C.; Aspen, Colo.; Charlotte, N.C.; Green Bay, Wisc.; Midland, Mich.; and Phillips, Wisc.

In Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute -- Barry-Wehmiller's consulting arm that specializes in helping other companies improve their leadership, company culture, recruiting and customer loyalty -- our communication skills training is one of the fundamental offerings they bring to other businesses.

To date, thousands of our team members and hundreds of people outside of Barry-Wehmiller have taken these classes and are learning that when you listen to another person – really, truly listen – it is a deeper, richer experience for everyone.

What kind of listener are you? Are you really listening to the people you lead? To the people in your life? How can you do better?

As we teach in our Listen Like a Leader class, consciously thinking about and utilizing these five listening skills can help you be a more empathetic and caring leader and person:

1. Attending Behavior

Focus your presence on the other person. Behave toward the other person in such a way that they know they have your undivided attention, absent of distraction. Put away your phone. Make eye contact. Have an open body posture. Lean forward. Nod along as they speak. But most importantly, give them your full attention and be present outwardly and within.

2. Acknowledgements

The verbal and nonverbal messages we give to the other person are very important. We want to prove to them that we are paying attention and tuned in to what they are expressing. We are acknowledging what they are saying. Verbal acknowledgements include phrases such as: "Uh-huh. "Really..." "No kidding." "Yes, I see." "That's interesting."

3. Door Openers

While listening to the other person share, it may make sense to offer a statement or two that encourages the other to continue to talk or share. Such encouragements to continue to carry-on are called door openers. Some examples to invite more conversation are "Go on ..." and "Tell me more ..."

4. Silence

This skill is perhaps the most difficult to master. Silence is about being quiet -- saying nothing and quieting the chatter in our own minds so we can catch all the other is expressing. Clear your mind, try not to think of the next thing to say. Just absorb what the other person is saying.

5. Reflective Response

This is the only proof the other person has that we were truly listening. Prove to the talker that you understand. You can do this by saying something like "What I hear you saying is ..." and then repeat the essence of the talker's message.

When you regularly deploy these critical five behaviors as you listen to others, you can help them feel heard, feel validated and know they matter. You are showing them that what they think and say really matters to you and, thus, they do too.

And that's how we build empathy and trust and the desire to collaborate.

A great deal of empathy is needed in the world right now. We need more caring leaders.

If all of us were more empathetic to those we get the opportunity to connect with, we would each be doing a bit to help to dissipate the anxiety and suffering the world is collectively feeling right now.

And just imagine if you displayed that kind of empathy and care in your business. How much better would the lives be of the people within your span of care be if they felt listened to, valued and fulfilled?

How can you be a caring leader? Listen. Slow down. Take a minute to clear your mind. Ready yourself to truly hear another's words. Really, truly listen. It's not as easy as it sounds, but it's worth every bit of the effort.

Bob Chapman is the CEO and chairman of Barry-Wehmiller.