Hear With Your EAR

  • “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw

To listen effectively, hear with your EAR.

The EAR Method of Listening

E stands for “Explore.”

A stands for “Acknowledge.”

R stands for “Respond.”

It’s three steps in sequence.

Start by exploring the other person’s position. Use open-ended questions: “What happened?” “What do you think?” “How do you see things?” or “Can you share an example with me?” Close the “E” stage by asking: “Is there anything you’d like to add?”

After you’ve explored the other person’s position, move to acknowledge. Get their acknowledgement that you understand them: “So if I understand you … Is that accurate?” “So your main concern is ___________. Is that right?”

After the person confirms that you understand, respond. Now it’s your turn to share what you think, feel or perceive.

Benefits of the EAR method

  1. Following the E-A-R sequence gives you the information and time to craft a nuanced, intelligent response—unlike in most cases where we quickly shoot from the hip.
  2. At a psychological and neurological level, E+A creates a positive, receptive environment. When someone takes the time to hear your point of view in full and shows they understand what matters to you, it feels good, doesn’t it?
  3. The EAR method eliminates a common cause of relationship breakdown: The erroneous assumption (I pronounce it “ass-umption.”) Typically we jump to our response, basing it on what we assume. All too often, our assumptions about others are erroneous, and create erroneous, negative assumptions about us. The downward spiral begins.

Discipline Yourself with the Period:Question-Mark Ratio.

For every sentence you utter that ends in a period, how many end in question marks?

When I work with executives and managers, it never ceases to amaze me how imbalanced their ratios are. In some cases, I’ve invoked the symbol for infinity. Why? Because they’ve never asked an employee a single question!

The Period:Question Mark Ratio creates self-awareness, and puts you in position to use your EAR.

The Constructive Confrontational Question (CCQ)

For tough conversations, try the CCQ. It has three elements:

  1. The question is open-ended. It’s designed to get the “E” going despite the highly charged atmosphere.
  2. It’s not a cross-examination question. This means the question doesn’t state or imply a position such as “Why did you let me down again?” CCQs are not adversarial. They’re inquisitive and curiosity-based.
  3. The question goes to the heart of the matter—no beating around the bush. “Jim, based on the problems we continue to have, I’m not sure it’s going to work out with you at our company and it may be time for a transition. How do you see things?” Or, “Janet, after ____________, I felt terribly hurt. From your perspective, what happened?”

CCQs are incredibly powerful, whether at work, home and elsewhere. They create environments where frank, honest, and constructive exchanges occur. They replace blame with solutions.