Empathic Communication in Agile

Empathic Communication in Agile

Trusted Communication is the key component for a Project Success. It is expected to have Trusted two-way communication among Management, Product Owner, and Scrum Team. This is much needed to implement the Agile First Manifesto which is “Individuals and Interactions Over Process and Tools”.  Software Development team is globally distributed and they must deal with below-mentioned differences.

  • Culture
  • Diversity
  • Language
  • Expression
  • Terminologies

If Team doesn’t have open communication, people get suspicious or discouraged or they lose the enthusiasm and energy.

Agile Team is expected to have a 360-degree communication where each team member is expected to listen, understand and respond when their turn comes. Communication is critical to do a successful sprinting.

The old school of thought on effective communication

Traditionally it was assumed that people who speak clearly, use simple examples and captures the listeners’ attention, as a good communicator. But the reality is, it never sort out the problem of the listener. This is because the communicator is interested to respond even before the problem statement is finished. Communicator is ready with an answer based on his previous experience in the same situation, which he has encountered.

The best communicators are Great listeners.

Empathic listening

An empathic listener will first seek to understand your issue from your point of view or reference and then they communicate the resolution.

We learned how to read and write, but we were never trained on how to effectively listen and understand from another individual’s own frame of reference.

According to Stephen R. Covey, there are five levels of listening

  • Ignoring is not really listening at all.
  • Pretending is acting as if we are listening when we are not.
  • Selective listening is hearing only selected parts of the conversation.
  • In Attentive listening, we are paying attention and focusing on the words being said.
  • The fifth level, Empathic Listening, is listening with the intent to understand.

“In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel.

Empathic listening is so powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with”  – Stephen R.Covey

Empathic Listening – Pre-requisite – 1

Seek to understand first

Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. But, we seek first to be understood. We listen with an intent to reply.

Example: “Oh, I know exactly what you are saying Mr. Product Owner”

“I went through the very same thing in my previous Project. Let me tell you about my experience.”

We never really see things from another person’s Point of View.

Empathic Listening – Pre-requisite – 2

Diagnose before you prescribe

You wouldn’t have any confidence in a doctor’s prescription unless you had confidence in the diagnosis

Likewise, The Agile Team should learn how to relate Customer’s needs (Feature) to his products and services.

The Agile Team should learn how to diagnose, how to understand the Business Case.

Empathic Listening Process

Step1: Rephrase the content what you have understood as the customer’s need.

Get the acknowledgment of the person who is receiving it, typically Product Owner or the Scrum Team.

Step 2:  Now add your Point of View/Feel on to the Customer’s need.  

This is incredible, as you genuinely seek to understand, as you rephrase the Business Case and reflect your Point of View/Feel. You have to make the Product Owner feel that his Business case has been understood well.

Step 3:  If there is conflict, the Receiver will correct your Point of View. Again, you have to rephrase and confirm it back with him.

Now the Product owner will Trust that you have understood his Business case as required.

What can I expect being Empathic Listener?

  • You will discover a huge difference in the perception.
  • You will appreciate the rest of the team members’ difference in Point of View/Feel.
  • Your approach towards Customer features will be changed into highly visual, intuitive and holistic
  • Team collaboration and Team Moral will be high.

This article is created on below References:

The 7 Habits of Highly effective people – Stephen R. Covey

Reflection of Management – Watts S. Humphrey with William R. Thomas

Kumaran | Manager – Quality assurance