Do You Know How to REALLY Listen to Your Clients and Employees?

How to use dialogue to empower and create sustainable impact for positive client relationships

I believe that in order to make the world a better place we have a responsibility to have meaningful dialogues. Dialogues where we empower each other. Cultivate our ability to really listen. Know how to ask questions. Questions that deepen our understanding of ourselves and others. An approach that allows us to create a sustainable impact.

In this article, I will describe the concept of protreptic as a tool for such meaningful dialogues. You will meet the insights of Ole Fogh Kirkeby, Professor Emeritus. He explains the transformative power of protreptic in businesses. 

You will see how protreptic dialogues can help us develop our understanding. Creating safe, inclusive spaces for everyone. We want our employees and clients to thrive and grow. We want to unlock their potential. Give them the chance to advance in the world and make a difference. In this article, you will see how protreptic can be used to unleash the power of purpose. 

Encounter with protreptic on leadership

I remember my first encounter with protreptic. I had no clue what it meant, or the impact it was about to have on my life. 

I knew of other words that had the same ending. Like rhetoric, poetic, ethic, and politic. However, protreptic I had never heard of. 

I have since learned that protreptic was a type of philosophical conversation. It was developed at the classic greek executive academies. The purpose was to educate future statesmen. They used protreptic to turn the individual towards the common good.

I was in a networking group with some other leaders, and we were all willing to give this protreptic a try. One of the group members had invited a facilitator to our small meeting. He was going to introduce this new and unknown concept. 

The facilitator gathered four of us in a circle. He told us that we were about to have a protreptic dialogue about leadership. He started by asking the first of the participants in our small group to define leadership. He asked questions like: 

  • What is the purpose of leadership? 
  • Where does the need for leadership come from? 
  • Define the limits of leadership?
  • What is on the other side? 
  • What is the opposite of leadership?
  • What are the effects of leadership on others?

These were all really interesting questions. They stirred up reflections of a different quality. Different than the usual catchphrases and “Oh, I know that” about leadership. 

Then the facilitator went on to the next leader in the circle. He asked her: “What are your thoughts about what you just heard?” She thought for a little while and replied: “It makes me think about good and bad leadership”. “Tell me a little bit more about what that looks like?” the facilitator asked. She said: “Good leadership is when people just want to follow. Naturally. Without having to tell them to.” 

Then came a question that completely changed the intensity and the rhythm of the conversation. 

He asked her: 

“How do you know when leadership is no longer there?” 

This question created a pause in the dialogue. Everybody in the circle held their breath in surprise. We all thought about this question in silence. 

What happened in the conversation at this point was a change of significance. The dialogue was touching on something of real importance. We were all approaching a place of vulnerability and truth within ourselves. 

After a pause in the conversation, the leader slowly shared her experience: “I was challenged by an employee. And at that moment I just felt that my leadership slipped right through my fingers. I had nothing to say. I thought to myself: This is a tough one to recover from.” 

By REALLY listening and following what was meaningful, the facilitator gave the leader space to express her experience and growth. He had no judgment. He created a safe, inclusive space for everyone to be vulnerable, yet thrive and grow. 

Through the protreptic dialogue, we all went on a journey of discovery. Uncovering and discovering our thoughts and beliefs about leadership. The protreptic dialogue helped deepen and reframe our narratives. 

It was a very empowering first meeting with protreptic as a tool for dialogue and growth. Experiencing first-hand how it develops our ability to REALLY listen to each other was enlightening. To listen to the reflections of others as well as formulating our own, connected us at a deeper level. 

By talking about our values and beliefs we developed a deeper understanding of human nature. How we all want safety, growth, and a sense of belonging. We all experienced firsthand how protreptic is a powerful tool of discovery. A tool that can unlock our potential as leaders and human beings. 

After this captivating first encounter with protreptic on leadership, my curiosity was awakened. “I need to learn how to have this kind of dialogue”. I said to myself. And I was not alone. All the other leaders in my networking group thought the same. This was the beginning of a journey that has created a huge impact on my life. And it can in yours too!

In the footsteps of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle

After that first encounter with the power of the protreptic dialogue, I embarked on a philosophical journey. I literally followed in the footsteps of the Greek philosophers, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. You can read more about the origin of Protreptic here

My networking group and I went with Copenhagen Coaching Center to Greece. There we learned how to have Protreptic dialogues on our own. And through these conversations, we learned to unleash the power of our purpose.

After the trip to Greece, I joined the master’s program with Copenhagen Coaching Center. I graduated with a Master of Business Coaching in May of 2020. During the master program, I encountered studies of Ole Fogh Kirkeby, Professor Emeritus at Copenhagen Business School. Kirkeby is also the author of The New Protreptic. The Concept and the Art.

Master in your own house

In an interview for this article Ole Fogh Kirkeby explains: 

“Protreptic is a way to perform dialogues, which makes you master in your own house.”

Ole Fogh Kirkeby, Professor Emeritus at Copenhagen Business School

Being a “master in your own house” involves obtaining a deeper understanding of your own belief system and the value system in your business. This understanding comes by philosophically investigating the root of the words. And exploring the bodily experiences we associate with our values and beliefs. 

On the question of how business leaders and professionals can begin to apply protreptic in their businesses Kirkeby states: 

“The most obvious way to introduce protreptic in an organization is to speak about core values, common as well as individual. This is obtained by analyzing their concepts. Take “trust” for example. The core sense of the root is “strong as oak wood”. This metaphorical knowledge can be used to understand the mental imagery of the other person. But we can also ask: How and why do you trust another? How do you deal with his trust? And do you trust yourself? Through these proceedings, you become wiser concerning trust, and better to make it a real relation.”

Ole Fogh Kirkeby, Professor Emeritus at Copenhagen Business School

Asked about the transformative power of protreptic Kirkeby continues: 

“Protreptic is able to make employees succeed in “leading upwards” because it creates a field in which reflection is not experienced as criticism, but goes hand in hand with recognition, respect of self, and responsibility. Examples are Denmark’s biggest bioscience companies and our most highly specialized hospital.”

Ole Fogh Kirkeby, Professor Emeritus at Copenhagen Business School

These businesses show the transformative power of protreptic. It empowers employees and makes self-management possible. It reinforces mutual respect and decency. It reduces cynicism toward management and increases devotion toward the firm. And this allows your company to create a sustainable impact.

Unleash the Power of Your Purpose

You can begin to unleash the power of purpose in your business today by starting to apply protreptic dialogues with your employees and clients. 

A very simple way to start experimenting with this on your own is to discuss the values of your business in conversations with your employees. 

These open and curious investigations about your core business values will affect how your employees approach your clients. 

You can start by discussing core values like transformational impact, sustainability, diversity, and inclusion. How do we define and understand these values? What is the purpose? How are they related to other values? Who are the aunts and uncles? What is always present when the value is in the house? 

3 Simple Steps

You can follow these 3 simple steps in your approach to your dialogues with your employees and your clients:

1.     Be like Sherlock Holmes and take out the magnifying glass in your dialogues. ASK OPEN CURIOUS QUESTIONS about meaning and purpose.

2.     Listen for changes in the RHYTHM of the dialogue. When the pace of the conversation changes be attentive and curious. This is listening to what is REALLY IMPORTANT to the employee and the client.

3.     Be emphatic and cultivate a learning culture. EMPOWER your employees’ capabilities to ask questions and have a learning mindset. This in turn will help your business and the clients you serve achieve and sustain transformational impact.

If you follow these steps you will experience the transformative power of the protreptic dialogue in your own business. You will see how you and your employees will develop a deeper understanding of self and others. Reinforcing a sustainable learning culture where questions are encouraged. Creating safe, inclusive spaces for your employees and clients to thrive and grow. Unlocking the potential of your business. Empower your employees and create a sustainable impact for positive client relationships. Giving them the chance to advance in the world and make a difference. “Do good for the sake of the common good” as the Greek philosophers put it. 

Do you want to learn more about how to apply protreptic dialogues in your business? 

I can help unleash the power of your purpose. 

Send me an email: 

About Sophie H Higgins, MA, MBA, MBC: I’m a freelance copywriter, professional speaker, philosophical business coach, and martial artist. I specialize in providing high-quality content and in helping people and businesses grow. Need a resourceful writer and professional content provider? I can help you achieve your goals.

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