Tag Archives: curious listening

Build Empathy into Your Interactions Part 3: Deconstruct Your Conversations

In our last 2 posts we explored the concept of empathy, why it is important for leaders, and how to invite empathy into your interactions. In part 3 of our empathy series, we will describe how to practice empathy on the back end of interactions by deconstructing your conversations.

Even if you are intentional about building empathy into your interactions, it may not truly blossom in the moment. Critical conversations need to be deconstructed. Once you step aside and ask yourself deconstructive questions, you may uncover more feelings and perspectives from the other person that need to be acknowledged. Deconstructing goes beyond ‘reflecting on’ or ‘evaluating’ a conversation: it provides you with rich data and direction on how to proceed in your follow-up conversation. For example, you can say, “I heard where you are coming from… I appreciate… I see an opportunity to…”

If you deconstruct your conversations, then you will deepen your relationships.

Use the following deconstructive questions to ask yourself, “Did I practice empathy? Did others understand me?”

Did I set the stage for the person to reflect?
Did we schedule a follow-up conversation?
Did I seek to understand the other person’s perspective?
Did I understand what the other person was feeling?
Did the other person understand my perspective and feelings?
What opportunities became apparent?

Write your answers to each of the deconstructive questions. Have new perspectives or insights emerged? Share a summary of your answers with the other person then inquire about their thoughts:

“How do you feel about the previous conversation?”
“Do you have a different view than before?”
“What is your conclusion?”

If you deconstruct your conversations, then you will deepen your relationships.

 Questions to Deepen Thinking

What would listening deeply to others get you?
How is sharing your perspective with others working for you?
What could happen if you don’t deconstruct your conversations?


Kegan, R., & Lahey, L.  (2001). How the way we talk can change the way we work: Seven languages for transformation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kofman, F. (2010). Advocacy and Inquiry: Combining the basic steps of the dance of communication. Retrieved March 6, 2011, from Axialent.com.

Related Posts

Build Empathy into Your Interactions Part 1
Build Empathy into Your Interactions Part 2: Climbing the Ladder of Inference

Build Empathy into Your Interactions Part 2: Climbing the Ladder of Inference

In our last post we looked at the concept of empathy and why it is important for leaders. In part 2 of our empathy series, we will share the first of 2 ways to structure empathy into your interactions.

The Ladder of Inference is a useful tool for practicing empathy and inviting the other person to be empathetic. How does it work? Start at the bottom of the ladder with data. Get all the facts out on the table. As you proceed up the ladder, follow the script as you share your perspectives and feelings. Encourage the other person to do the same. As the conversation emerges and you reach agreement after each step, both of you will understand each other’s perspective. Before taking action, set aside time to deconstruct the conversation.

If you invite empathy into your interactions, then you and the other person will understand where each other is coming from.

Follow the script in the Infographic to build empathy into your conversations:


Questions to Deepen Thinking

What will making a conscious effort to understand another person’s perspective get you?
How is ensuring the other person knows your perspectives working for you?
What would happen if you set aside time for you and the other person to “think about it” before taking action?


Argyris, C. (1982). Reasoning, Learning, and Action: Individual and Organizational (1st ed. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc. Pub.
Senge, P. Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Smith, B. (1994). The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. Strategies and Tools For Building a Learning Organization. NY: Doubleday.


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The DOs & DON’Ts of Curious Listening: Tell Me More

If you are a leader, you are in the relationship business. Whether a colleague, client, vendor, front-line worker, or networking connection, you interact with people every day. If, in your interactions, you are mindful about making a human connection, you will establish the foundation for a positive, beneficial relationship. A key to making that connection is listening—and listening takes practice.

Curious Listening

Edgar Schein refers to Humble Inquiry as asking questions from an attitude of genuine curiosity and interest about the other person. In this post, we will focus on the listening part of Humble Inquiry. We call it “curious listening.” This type of listening is more than just hearing or being attentive and it is not the kind of listening where you expect to gain knowledge. It is a higher level of listening that Otto Scharmer describes as “seeing from our deepest source” and what Daniel Goleman refers to as “emotional empathy.”

Perfecting the skill of curious listening takes time and it takes active energy. Practice by being intentional about the following DOs & DON'Ts:


The aim of curious listening is not about what we hear, per se; it is about the other person feeling valued.

If leaders approach an interaction with the mindset that the conversation is worthwhile, then the other person will feel “listened to” and a connection is made.

Preparing to Listen: Mindful Mindsets

Prepare for curious listening by taking the time to stop, slow down, and consider the following mindsets (or mantras, if you will):

  • This person is worth listening to
  • I don’t know how this conversation is going to unfold, but I want to connect with this person
  • I will listen for who they are and what they are about
  • I will be curious about what they say
  • I will try to sense their perspectives, feelings, actions, and desires
How to Get Better at Curious Listening

Perfecting the skill of curious listening takes time and it takes active energy. Practice by being intentional about the following DOs & DON’Ts:

  • ignore your internal noise and thoughts
  • listen to the other person’s words and their impact on you
  • sense how the other person is feeling
  • formulate a response in your mind
  • think about advice, opinions, or solutions
  • silently judge or criticize the person or what they are saying
  • feel the need to memorize anything they say

Questions to Deepen Thinking

What would happen to your interactions if you focused on curiosity and did not think ahead about your response?
What will you get if you try this script the next time you interact with someone? “Hmm… Tell me more!”
What are the consequences of not truly listening to the people you interact with?


Brady, M. (Ed.). (2003). The wisdom of listening. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
Goleman, D. (2013, December). The Focused Leader:How effective executives direct their own – and their organization’s – attention. Harvard Business Review.
Scharmer, O. Theory U. Retrieved June 17, 2014, from Presencing Institute: https://www.presencing.com/theoryu#sthash.FJ1oQJk3.dpuf
Schein, E. (2013). Humble inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Related Posts

Networking: 4 Steps to Making Strategic Connections
Thinking Partners: A Concept and a Compact
Mutual Inquiry: 8 Steps to Deepen & Shift Thinking

Networking: 4 Steps to Making Strategic Connections

Strategic contacts are often people with whom you have no mutual connection. The bad news: For many, reaching out to these people is an overwhelming task that causes high anxiety. The good news: It can be mastered with structure and practice and it has a high return on investment.  

Once you have identified people to connect with, what do you say to them? How do you introduce yourself? The more you practice the following steps the easier it will get and the more likely you are to make it part of your ongoing leadership practice.4 steps to making strategic connections: Initial Contact, Curious Listening, 2-minute story, & follow-up

4 Steps to Make a Connection

1. Initial Contact: Whether in person or electronically, use your commitment statement as a way to introduce yourself and ask for a meeting. Tell them what you are committed to, what you are passionate about, and what you are working towards. Mention your common connection and request some time to meet. For example:

“I got your name from … I am committed to … so that … Can we meet for coffee to talk more?”

2. Your Story: During the “get-acquainted” meeting, share your 2-minute story of commitment so the other person can learn about you. Tell them about a challenge you overcame, your shared purpose, and your desired future. For example:

“I’d like to tell you a story… I share this because … is important to us … Imagine if … Please join me … ”

3. Their Story: Use curious listening to learn about the other person. Everyone has a story to tell. Encourage them to share theirs. Ask questions and listen. Look for something that resonates with you– work or non work related. People most often bond through interactions about personal interests, not technical ones. For example:

“I’m curious … Tell me more … Go on … That is interesting … ”

4. Follow-up: Show your appreciation by thanking them for the meeting using ongoing regard. Describe specifics about the meeting and then describe what impact it had on you. Written notes are best, but email also works. For example:

“Thank you … I appreciate …What you said/did … It made a difference in …”

 Questions to Deepen Thinking

  • How are you doing with making new connections?
  • What would happen to your leadership practice if you stopped strategic networking?
  • Have you ever tried to make a connection simply by being curious about the other person?Credits
Battilana, J. & Casciaro, T. (2013, July-August). The network secrets of great change agents. Harvard Business Review.
Ibarra, H. & Hunter, M. (2007, January). How leaders create and use networks. Harvard Business review.
Kegan, R. &. Lahey, L. (2001). How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Schein, E. (2013). Humble inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Uzzi, B. & Dunlap, S. (2005, December). How to build your network. Harvard Business Review.

Related Posts

Strategic Networking: ABCs of Choosing Your Connections
Networking: 5 Circles of Influence
How Leaders Inspire & Motivate: 2-Minute Story of Commitment
Setting Meaningful Goals: 3 Components of a Commitment
The DOs and DON’Ts of Curious Listening: Tell Me More
Ongoing Regard: Boost the Power of your Thank You