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Professionals sometimes see things a bit clearer Published: Sunday, May 11, 2003 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

Professionals, in their intensity of their listening and being with, and without going beyond the experience of their customers, sometimes see clearly what customers only see half and hint at. This deeper kind of empathy involves sensing meanings of which the client is scarcely aware. When a customer talks about his anger with someone else, as he talks the helping professional hears not just anger but also hurt. It may be that the customer can talk with relative ease about his anger but not as easy about feelings of hurt.

In a basic empathy response people recognize themselves almost immediately, in terms of meaning, experience and feelings. There are some questions that can be ask in order to probe a bit deeper when listening to a customer that you want to help. What is this person only half saying? What is this person hinting at? What is this person saying in a confused way? What messages do I hear behind the explicit messages?

Profound empathic listening deals with what the customer is actually saying and expressing, however confusedly, and not with the consultant’s interpretations of what the customer is saying. The purpose is not to psychologize, but to capture what it is implied. This is a fundamental perspective because leaders articulate and define what has previously remained implicit or unsaid. That is why leaders invent images, metaphors, and models that provide a focus for new attention.

The hidden meaning customers discover are the first step in a much more creative process. In a second stage customers can be challenged to ask themselves “Now that I have a much fuller understanding of just how things are, what do I want them to look like?“

Profound empathy focuses not only on problems, but also on resources. Effective development professionals listen for the resources that are deeply buried in the customer and often have been forgotten by them. That is why we enjoy a kind of interpersonal talent show that can be develop between the consultant and the customer where skills and competencies previously unknown emerge and later placed at the service of the customer and the organization.

Profound empathy can take the form of making explicit what is implied, identifying hidden topics, connecting islands, moving from less to the more and practicing the complex art of self disclosure.


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