Looping for understanding – Supercommunicators 

Listening for strengths and values

In this module, we bring together five critical concepts which will help you deepen your relationship with colleagues in any catch-up conversation – whether these be in-the-moment feedback conversations, project planning meetings, fortnightly check-ins, annual reviews or any of the other important conversations we have with teammates:

  1. Goal setting conversations
  2. Feedback – constructive and positive
  3. Learning conversations
  4. Planning conversations
  5. Developmental conversations
  6. Problem solving conversations
  7. Check in conversations

Which of your colleagues will you practise these techniques with?

Concept one – pay attention to the kind of conversation that your colleague wants to have.

Is it about 1) emotions, 2) identity, or is it 3) practical conversation (why are we here) – ensure you match (at least initially) the conversation that your colleague wants to have. As the conversation proceeds, it is likely to flow between these three areas. Be aware of this flow and ensure you match the emotional tone of your colleague.

Examples of identity conversations include working style, learning style, personality, status, strengths, and values.

Matching to one of the three main storylines shows something important—it allows super communicators to show their companions they want to connect.

If a colleague is happy and wants to share some upbeat news about a project, bringing them straight back down to earth with a bump because you brush it aside with dry practicality can create a mismatch in communication styles, which won’t help you connect. It’s important to be cautious and aware of this potential pitfall.

If your colleague is time-pressed and wants a practical conversation, leading them astray with a personal story of fun times on a recent holiday will not help you connect.

Meet the person where they are – Tune into their needs in the moment. And together allow the conversation to develop. The skilled leader tunes in and gently draw the “inter-being awareness” towards solutions (the inter-being space is the positive liminal space created between people).

Concept two – harness the power of emotional contagion 

Reading other people is difficult. When we tune into our colleagues, it’s challenging to distinguish between high-intensity negative or positive emotions – similarly with low intensity. Checking in with a colleague is useful to ascertain how they feel.

Our brains need to connect to have a connected conversation with a colleague. And we show a desire for connection when we match an emotional intensity. This does not mean we match super high intensity like rage with rage, but we change the pitch and intonation of our voice to show our colleagues we want to connect.

Consider the power of laughter. Research reveals that approximately 80% of the time, our laughter is not a response to something humorous. Instead, it’s a way to express our desire for connection, even in mundane situations like planning dinner. When our laughter is reciprocated, it’s a clear sign of mutual connection.

The same thing happens with other forms of non-linguistic communication. When someone frowns, or their voice becomes quiet and intimate, we instinctively mimic them and apply what psychologists refer to as the matching principle of communication. Super communicators listen to those instincts and nurture those urges because they know that when we match someone, we show them we want to listen—and they, in return, become more willing to listen to and trust us.

Your default position as a leader may be calm and centred, but this does not mean flat—you can show your colleagues you want to connect by changing the vocal timber in your voice.

Concept three – share your goals and ask what others are seeking in the conversation – forward thinking, solutions focussed

We’re all better prepared to have a conversation when we know it’s going to happen. Preparation helps us get in the right headspace and think of things we might want to share. Tell your colleagues what you expect from them and what they can expect from you so there are no surprises. 

Concept four – It all starts with a question.  This is the OPENS strengths-based conversations we discuss in our workshops.

Asking questions about feelings without asking an emotional question – tap into meaning, strengths, fears, joy, values and weaknesses by asking simple questions which go to the heart of someone’s role at work and how they want to work with you. 

One of the most important things a team leader or coach can do is choose a good reflection question. 

There is no “right” or “wrong” one — but there are questions that are better suited to the type of catch-up meeting you are having and the stage of your relationship with your colleague. For instance, you’ll want to begin with getting-to-know-you questions at the start of a relationship. 

Be real – Let go of “looking perfect” rather than speak like you would to a friend. You don’t need to bare your soul or share anything you’re uncomfortable with. Just try to open up and tell your colleagues things they wouldn’t know about you. This gives them something to model and communicate, and this communication loop is outside of regular work—it’s a place of learning, growth, and connection.

Show genuine curiosity and enthusiasm – When considering your reflection question, explain and demonstrate to colleagues that you’re curious about their thoughts. Tell them how you’re looking forward to hearing their thoughts and excited to get to know them better. You don’t need to go overboard and become a cheerleader. But by dropping in words of encouragement, you’re motivating colleagues to pick up the loop where you left it.

Concept five – ALPACA listening or “looping for understanding  “

Charles Duhigg’s book “Supercommunicators” contains many great insights, and I share a few of the main ideas here.

So much of communication revolves around simply understanding what the other person is trying to say. Whether you agree with them or not, understanding their point of view is crucial. Duhigg unpacks the various types of discussions that two people might have with one another, but if you don’t understand their point of view, the conversation is in big trouble. His proposed solution is that you “loop for understanding”. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Ask questions to make sure you understand what someone has said.
  2. Repeat back, in your own words, what you heard.
  3. Ask if you got it right.
  4. Continue until everyone agrees we understand.

This is powerful because one of the most vital human impulses is social mimicry. If someone starts asking questions and looping their companions, everyone else becomes more likely to ask questions, listen closely, and loop in return.

It’s a formula sometimes called looping for understanding. The goal is not to repeat what someone has said verbatim but rather to distil the other person’s thoughts in your own words, prove you are working hard to understand and see their perspective—and then repeat the process, again and again, until everyone is satisfied.

It’s easy to jump in with your thoughts as soon as the other person has paused, but taking a moment to loop for understanding will help the conversation be much more productive for everyone.

Once you have mastered reflective listening, you can move on to “looping”. Looping takes reflective listening one step further. 

When you “loop,” you repeat in detail what the speaker said. You ask if you got the content right. 

If you did, then you ask, “Is there more?” If you did not, you allowed the speaker to clarify or correct. You repeat that content and ask again, “Did I get it right?” You keep going until the speaker says you have got it right.

Looping can be very challenging at first because you have to listen intently to what the speaker is saying and then be able to repeat back the content. You can ask the speaker to pause so that you can reflect a smaller chunk of content. As you get better at looping, you will find it easier. Your accuracy gets better. You can reflect larger chunks of content.  

Reflection space

Who in your team will you try out the looping for understanding ideas?

How will you create a new habit of meeting your colleague where they are? ie where is the conversation at – emotional, identity or practical.

How will use looping for understanding to deepen your awareness of your colleagues’ strengths and values? For example, using the 60 workplace strengths-profile list and the OPENS concept to deepen your understanding of colleagues.

Video support:

I encourage you to watch some of these videos expand on the concept of looping for understanding. The last video is with Charles Duhigg, author of “Supercommunicators”.

1 minute looping video 

20 minute looping for understanding 

Two-hour interview with Charles Duhigg

Share these insights with friends and colleagues