Using Active Listening and Empathy to Improve a Situation

Somesh Kumar

Engineering Leader at Ericsson



"I was managing a team of five people. One person on the team would always get really anxious. When I came onto the team I was not aware of this issue but I later found out through day-to-day dealings. The person wanted to work hard, deliver on time, and with a high quality, but this trait was inhibiting him. His increased intensity level to deliver and perform were creating his anxiety which would then overcome the activities themselves. Furthermore, it was affecting the rest of the team. Thus, I was challenged with the task to cater to this individual but also to address and deal with the situation for the betterment of the team."

Actions taken

"I began holding frequent one-on-ones with this person. Sometimes they were on alternate days while other times it was weekly. I wanted to first better understand the situation, so we had a conversation around the issue. In fact, the first step in solving any problem is accepting that there is one. This person admitted to his anxiety and realized that things weren't going well in terms of controlling it. I then empathetically listened to his perspective. I sympathized with what he was going through but told him the resolution was completely in his hands. In my opinion, issues are resolved by the people themselves, not be me - the manager. Of course I am there to help and act as a medium of reflection to aid in understanding what is going on, but that person has to overcome the issue by his/herself. Finally, we came up with some steps for him to take to avoid getting anxious like slowing down and thinking about tasks before rushing into them.

Separately I had meetings with the other members of the team. Although team members had already told me before that this individual was delaying or stopping them from completing their work, I also heard many complaints in these sessions about the anxious person and not being able to work with him. So I empathized, too, with these team members and listened to what they had to say. I then validated that there was a problem and asked for them to be patient while we resolved it.

The team and the individual have improved as a result of these meetings. The individual was introspective enough to realize that there was an issue, and the team was patient while this person tried to resolve it. It is still a work in progress, and I won't say that everything is completely composed, but there has been improvement."

Lessons learned

  • "The first step is admitting that there is a problem. If it happens to be with one individual than that person must own it. They must have the introspection and desire to change otherwise there is no way for any improvements."
  • "Active listening is a strong skill to have. I'm not saying I'm the best- I could use some more practice, but I try as much as I can. In one-on-one sessions through active listening you can get a person to work through his/her own problems without you having to do much. Sit, listen, try to comprehend what the issue is, and then ask them for suggestions on how they would go about solving the problem."
  • "Problems are best addressed privately in one-on-ones. Conversations of this sort and feedback for improvement should stay behind closed doors instead of publicly. I sincerely believe that publicly we have to praise people."

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Somesh Kumar

Engineering Leader at Ericsson

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