As I recently wrote, empathy is one component of social intelligence. Closely related — but not identical — is the notion of “attunement.”
Attunement, as described by Daniel Goleman in his best-selling Social Intelligence, is “attention that goes beyond momentary empathy to a full, sustained presence that facilitates rapport. We offer a person our total attention and listen fully. We seek to understand the other person rather than just making our own point.”
Goleman distinguishes between people who do attune (i.e., listening with full emotional presence) and those who do not. The latter, he notes, don’t really respond to what other people are saying or feeling. Instead they just say what they want to say, irregardless of what the other person might have been trying to express.
It is, he notes, a difference between “talking at” a person rather than “listening to” a person (and even asking questions to solicit more information).
I don’t know about you, but I know a LOT of people who speak without attunement. In fact, one way I can tell I’m talking to someone like that (or rather being talked at by someone like that) is the feeling of fatigue I develop in the middle of the conversation. It’s tiring listening to people who just want to hear themselves talk.
Conversely, as Goleman describes it, “two-way listening makes a dialogue reciprocal, with each person adjusting what they say in keeping with how the other responds and feels.” And if you can do this, you’re more likely to help your customers, employees,and/or co-workers feel heard and understood, which makes, in turn, for strong relationships and teams.
Some people, it seems, are born with an ability to attune. But we all can cultivate better listening skills — by making ourselves stop multi-tasking long enough to really listen, by asking questions to get more information, by deciding that building rapport is more important than our own need to vent, and by realizing that listening — really listening — takes no more time than only half-listening. In fact, really listening may save you time in the end, because it eliminates the static that can arise when people don’t feel heard or respected.