Empathic listening is defined as listening with an intent to care with the feeling of compassion and emotional understanding. It is also known as active listening or reflective listening.
Explanation: Empathic listening is beyond normal hearing. The first thing to understand here is the difference between listening and hearing. Imagine two people sitting in a cafe.
One person is talking while the other person is not interrupting but not necessarily paying attention either. Words are falling on his ears without reaching his brain. That is called hearing. Now imagine if the second person hears and understands it and reciprocates appropriately with necessary replies indicating that he has given complete attention.
That is called listening. Empathic listening is needed and not empathic hearing, and it goes beyond merely hearing. If done correctly, empathic listening will help to deepen your relations with other people and give a sense of belonging.
Having a close listener is essential at the workplace as well as in personal life. Empathic listening can be termed as a compassionate and dynamic process that makes use of all the elements of communication and not just listening.
In business, empathic listening is a crucial skill, and having it is one of the leadership traits. Some are born with a natural ability to be an empath, and others develop and honor this skill throughout their lives.
Having an empathic listening ability is essential to help a stressed coworker or sometimes even to a client.
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Qualities of an Empathic listener
Being present does not mean that the other person should simply be present physically. Being present even on the phone is enough if the person is mentally present and listening as well as responding appropriately to what the person is sharing.
Minimizing the external distractions, the empathic listener should not cause interruptions. Neither should indulge in interruptions.
Compassion is showing similarities in your emotional experience with the other person. The listener should identify and connect emotional experiences with his own experiences so that the person sharing will feel better.
For example, if the person says that he is having problems commuting to the office, you can share your experience about how you faced the problem to commute to the office and how you solved it.
However, it is essential to remember that it is not about you but the other person; therefore, you need to stop at an appropriate point in your conversation.
Use whatever wisdom you have to solve the problem or help the person get through his emotional trauma. The primary reason that someone is sharing something important with you is that they trust your wisdom.
They understand that you cannot only listen but also provide a solution if required. Therefore do not shy away or refrain from responding to the needs of the person by your wisdom.
One of the most crucial parts of being an empathic listener is that you should have to be non-judgemental. No matter what the other person shares, you should not criticize him or her.
Some things you may disagree with, or they may not go well with you. In any case, before voicing out your opinion, ask enough questions to understand the issue correctly. And then voice out your opinion or suggestion only if necessary.
If you feel that you are not adding anything to the conversation or the person, then there is no point in voicing out your opinion.
This is one of the essential elements of empathic listening. You have to be trustworthy with each other, or else there would be no empathic listening.
You have to be patient while the other friend shares his burdens with you. Some people share them immediately while some people take their own time.
Being an empathetic listener, you should develop the habit of patience, and you should be able to allow them to take their own time so that they can speak freely without hindrance.
The primary function of the empathic listener is in its name: listening. However, there are times when you are expected to respond to the person speaking. It will help you clarify your doubts as well as help the person get his problems answered from you.
However, you have to look for the correct time to voice out your opinion or be responsive.
Empathic listening skills
The first and foremost important skill of empathetic listening is patience. You do not have to agree or oppose the person, but you can simply use phrases that are classified as conversation continuers like “I understand,” “Oh I see,” etc.
You have to act as a reflection for the person. You have to repeat the thoughts and share feelings with the person so that he can feel comfortable expressing himself. But you have to be very careful while being expressive to the person. Using clear words with clear meanings is recommended rather than words with hidden meanings.
An empathic listener should not reply in such a way that makes the person feel judged or defensive. In other cases, it will restrict the flow of talk from the person.
The person should also have probing skills. For example, if someone shares with you that they have a specific issue with their job, you should gently probe and ask to describe the issue so that you can listen and provide a solution.
You should also be mindful of what is being said as well as what is not being said. Look at your body language and non-verbal communication, which is happening without your knowledge. Often non-verbal communication reveals a lot more than you intend to, and this will give a negative message to the person sharing information.
Tips for Empathic listening
The following are the few essential tips for being an excellent empathic listener:
1. Excellent listening abilities
To become a good listener, you have to develop excellent listening qualities. There is a difference between hearing and listening, as described above, and you should ensure that you are not merely hearing and listening to understand and respond.
Let the person speak without you interrupting. However, keep listening well to the person speaking. Use appropriate replies for the questions, if any, or provide moral support by continuing the conversation.
Try to understand rather than trying to reply. Avoid being judgmental to whatever the person says and keep an open mind for everything that the person will tell you.
2. Listen to understand
While most of the people listen with an intent to reply, thinking that they will add something of value to the conversation, the empathetic listener should listen to understand. Responding is not essential, but understanding is when you are listening.
You should be attentive to what the person is speaking, how your reply is affecting him. If you feel that your responses are not adding value to the conversation, you should not reply.
Most of the people have an inherent ability to provide a solution without understanding the problem. Therefore, the empathic listener should put aside his thoughts and feelings and dedicate the entire time to listening to the person.
When someone is opening up to you and speaking their heart out, the least you can do is be completely attentive. You have to understand that they choose to speak to you because you are an empathetic listener.
They could have selected many other people, but they have chosen to talk to you, which shows the amount of trust they have on you. By giving your undivided attention to them, you are reducing half of their burden.
Make sure that you have the undivided attention on the speaker. Do not get distracted by interruptions of mobile phones, constant phone calls, or do not try to multitask. This will give a wrong impression of you as an empathic listener to the speaker.
4. Avoid Misunderstandings
Having misunderstandings during conversations is one of the worst things that you can experience as an empathic listener. Misunderstanding can be on either side. It is crucial that if you do not understand something, then you run it through again by the person so that you can be sure of what you have heard and what you have followed is the same.
If there has been a misunderstanding from your side to the person talking to you, then immediately curb it to avoid its incremental repercussions. Confirm and reconfirm again to check your understanding. For example, if the person says that he does not have anyone to support him, then instead of jumping directly to the conclusion that the person is alone, he starts asking him if he has any family, friends at work, or any other colleagues or people that he meets with.
If all the answers are no, then you can go ahead and understand that the person not only THINKS he is alone, but he is alone.
5. Ask Questions
Asking questions is the best thing that you can do for well-being and empathy. However, don’t ask annoyingly wrong and constant questions that it fizzles out the enthusiasm or motivation of the speaker.
Don’t make the questions physical interrogation. Open-ended questions are recommended more when it comes to empathic listening. If the listener has to ask any question unrelated to what the speaker is speaking, he should apologize before asking the question for the interruption and then ask the irrelevant question.
Asking questions will also help to avoid misunderstandings. Starting the question with “as I understand this…” will help to check your understanding as well as avoid misunderstandings.
It is essential to maintain silence. Depth and weight are added to conversation because of silence. However, don’t be completely silent even when the person is asking any question to you. Use the appropriate tone of your voice along with voice modulation.
Speaking too loudly or too softly may be annoying to the person. Silence at proper intervals, while the person is speaking while the person requires some time to speak, is very important to maintain the conversation and the emotions of the person.
Abruptly ending the silence will impact the feelings of the listener and invite an emotional response from the person
Thus, being an empathic listener is a gift for other people since they can talk everything to the empath. The empathic listener must follow all the rules and tips of being a good, empathetic listener.
The empathic listener should use all the elements related to the empathic listener to the best of his abilities.
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