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Why "Active Listening" Helps the Counselor in Performance Counseling

Performance–centered counseling is a specific type of counseling to change the behavior of employees. It is used to improve behavior/performance when the employee consciously or even subconsciously chooses to be deficient or defiant of satisfactory performance or behavior in the organization.

Performance-centered counseling is a type of counseling that should be specific, effective and swift. The supervisor need to focus on modifying behavior while creating a supportive climate for the counseling, and ensuring an organized method to complete the performance counseling. They also need to be able to redirect behavior to achieve organizational goals, as well as, create an effective behavior redirection action plan with input from the follower, and make the counseling about the behavior and not the person.

The counselee in performance-centered counseling needs to understand performance expectations

vs. observed behavior. They also need to participate in identifying and determining a plan to change behavior, and possibly deciding the resulting action if the behavior doesn’t change. but how does this get done unless both sides understand each other's perspective, reasons and expectations?

This is where active listening come in. In the CMF Leadership S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling Seminars we show you how to use active listening as part of the S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling Method. Here's how active listening plays a key role in performance-centered counseling:

Active listening echniques for the performance-based counselor:

CONCENTRATE ON WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING. Look at them when they are talking because people want to have eye-contact (in Western culture anyway) while talking to someone. That doesn't mean glaring, or having a stare-out, but don't avoid eye-contact. Avoid having other distractions (T.V., computer, phone, etc.) and use appropriate proximity (don’t put things between you). We teach some specific techniques in our seminars of how to set up the counseling session to make this happen. As a performance counselor it will also help you identify true feeling and help you be authentic in your assessment of the counselee. We discuss how further in the article.

SEND THE NONVERBAL MESSAGE THAT YOU ARE LISTENING Non-verbal communication is HUGE!!! Approximately 93% of communication is not the words we say but voice inflection, tone, physical movement, etc. As the counselor, use non-verbal messages to show you understand, such as nodding your head, facial expressions, appropriate gestures of the hands. Use verbal messages to show you understand, like “Uh-huh, Yes, wow, really, interesting, no-kidding?" Even something simple like "I understand now." When people think you are listening they will continue to provide information. In our seminars we do an exercise that demonstrates just how much it impacts people when even a non-verbal message telegraphs that you are no longer interested in listening. We've had people that just stopped talking, turned away, sat down, or many other behaviors, just because someone looked at their watch.

AVOID EARLY EVALUATIONS When doing performance counseling you have to consider, "What if the person had a great reason for doing what they did?" In the book, "Because Why? Understanding Behavior in Exigencies," this is the central focus of the Exigency Response Model. Because people may act differently in

situations when they are unfamiliar with what to do, although someone else evaluating the behavior might know what to do. So, consider what internal communication filters are you using. What bias do you already have before listening, will these prevent you from hearing a new idea or method? Do you have all the information, is it possible that they have more information than you? So, let them tell the whole story and listen with "a child's mind" to what may be new or different information.

AVOID GETTING DEFENSIVE Just like avoiding early evaluations, in performance counseling listen to the whole story first before you get defensive. Maybe they had the best interest of the organization (and you) at heart. Be open to the “other side” of the situation/story. The best person on the debate team is the one who knows the other side's argument better than the other side...maybe by listening to the other side, you'll learn something valuable? Which also mean you need to understand that you may be wrong! If you've done your homework right, before going into a performance counseling, you should know most of the information and be on very solid ground, but there is always the possibility that you could be wrong, so avoid getting defensive and listen.

PRACTICE PARAPHRASING Paraphrasing isn't repeating word-for-word what the other person said, it is saying the same thing back to them in a different way, so they know that you have understood their meaning. As the counselor, repeat back to them what they said. To make this a more natural process, you must practice it. Saying things like “What I’m hearing you say is…” “What I think you mean is…” “What my perception of what your saying is…” “What I get from all this is…” People want to know they have been heard, so by paraphrasing they can hear their own ideas how you understand them. And if it is correct, they will agree with it. If they think you misunderstood, they can correct you.

LISTEN (AND OBSERVE) FOR FEELINGS One of the reasons we believe or don't believe people is that the message they are sending may or may not match with the emotions that should or should not be there. This is called being congruent. If I am apologizing for something terrible that I just did, but I am laughing and joking about it, do I really feel sorry? Much of our subconscious picks up on these clues without us even knowing it and we get "that gut feeling" about someone. So, counselors, watch the eyes and face for reactions, are they congruent or incongruent with the message being said? Watch the body language, because just like the facial expressions, we do things based on how we really feel. Look for “micro-expressions.” These are the slight, quick, movements of the eye-brows, mouth, nose, eyes, etc., that can be very telling about the real feelings even though someone is trying to conceal how they feel. Listen for tone of voice, cracking, hesitations, “flubs” and listen for subconscious meaning or “Freudian Slips.”

ASK QUESTIONS As a performance counselor it is important to understand why someone did something, so ask clarifying questions or for additional information if needed. Ask what actions should be taken (leads to further action) especially when the person you are counseling feels very strongly about the actions they took. In S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling we use this technique in a specific way to help determine the action that will be used to overcome the performance gap. We say make it an "Ask, don't tell" how the behavior should be changed. Because, when people have a say in what happens to them, they are more likely to participate than if they are not involved in the decision-making.

Putting it all together:

Active listening is a strong communication tool, but when these techniques are used by counselors, put into the specific performance-based counseling steps, such as the S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling Method, and used in specific ways, with specific intent and techniques, it can be even stronger. To learn more about S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling go to

About the Author: Dr. Chris Fuzie is the author of "S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling: Save the Relationship, Change the Behavior," and Owner of CMF Leadership Consulting. Chris is a developer/trainer/consultant for leadership of public, private, profit, and non-profit organizations. Chris holds a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D), M.A. and B.A. in Organizational Leadership, and has graduate certificates in Human Resources and Criminal Justice Education. Chris is honorably retired from the Modesto Police Department after 28 years of public service where he last served as the Assistant Division Commander of Investigations.

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