by Jathan Janove
As an executive coach, I was working with Phil, director of finance for his company. He shared frustrations he was having with one of his staff accountants, Melinda. “She gets defensive so easily,” he said. “I have trouble speaking with her about performance issues.”
I suggested we do a role play. Pretending I was Melinda, I said, “You’ve come to my office. I invite you in and you sit down. Now speak.”
Phil proceeded to lay out each of his expectations in great detail, providing reasons for each, and identifying gaps in Melinda’s performance with those expectations. Phil then articulated specific solutions by which Melinda could close these gaps.
“Your message was terrific except for one thing,” I said. I showed Phil a picture of a large period and a large question mark with ratio sign between them. “Do you know what this is?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” Phil replied.
“It symbolizes the Period/Question Mark ratio. When you’re conversing with your employees, for every one of your sentences that ends in a period, how many end with question marks?”
I taught Phil the “EAR” method of listening, where “E” stands for “explore,” which means asking open-ended, exploratory questions; “A” is for “acknowledge,” by which the listener confirms his or her understandings with the speaker; and after the speaker confirms that the listener’s understanding is correct, the listener “responds,” the “R.”
After some practice, Phil built questions into his planned discussion with Melinda. What did she think? How did she see things? What did she see as a solution?
Why is the EAR method effective?
1. It improves the quality of your response. Instead of shooting from the hip, following the EAR sequence will give you the information and time to craft a nuanced, intelligent response.
2. As the psychological level, the “E” and the “A” combine to create a receptive environment for communication.
3. It eliminates the number one culprit in relationship breakdown: the erroneous assumption. Far too often, we jump to our response, basing it on what we assume about the other person. We shouldn’t be surprised that our response elicits a negative reaction—its inaccuracy offends the other person, who feels misunderstood.
Jathan Janove is Prinicipal of Janove Organization Solutions, working with employers to identify their core needs and objectives, and helping plan executive “interventions.” His new book, Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories From the Management Trenches, from which this article was adapted, is published by AMACOM.