Empathetic Listening

Empathetic listening is a learned skill where the listener feels as the speaker instead of for the speaker, empathy as opposed to sympathy. It’s a skill that once learned will not come automatically, sufficient time must be set aside for it and preparations must be made for it. To be a good empathetic listener one has to let the other parties dominate the discussion, stay attentive to what is said, hold back from interrupting, use open ended questions, stay aware and sensitive to the emotions being expressed, and reflect back the substance and feelings being expressed.

To allow someone else dominate a conversation while remaining un-judgmental is a very difficult skill to learn because it goes against our natural instinct to judge. We like to be in control of the information that we receive and distribute, listening with empathy tends to force us to allow another to control that information for a time. Being non-judgmental is a big part of empathetic listening as well, staying away from statements that begin like “Don’t you think” or “Have you tried? . Questions like these tend to be the listener just giving advice or prescribing a solution when in reality it stops the speaker from creating solutions for themselves. Asking open ended questions helps the speaker to create their own options, to be good at empathetic listening one must give very minimal personal insight and allow the speaker to gain their own. Staying attentive to what is being said without rehearsing what you might say is critical to empathetic listening.

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It creates a mental environment that leaves one open to translating what has been said by the speaker more effectively, by observing the non-verbal body language and emotional cues one can get more out of what is being said than when rehearsing in one’s mind. Listening empathetically is listening as someone while listening sympathetically is listening for someone, one is form of listening while keeping a distance the other is actually taking it upon you to put yourself in another’s emotional struggle.

This usually means actually observing the emotions of not only the speaker but you the listener. Practicing to be a good empathetic listener was incredibly difficult, I wanted to inform the speaker of how I had done whatnot in the past or that if I were in that position I would have handled it this way, it seemed almost like you have to fight against your instinct to help.

I had to keep my mind in check about rehearsing what I might say while actually interpreting body language and listening to the problem being spoken. It’s a skill that requires a fair amount of multitasking that is for sure. But like all skills that are learned I am sure that with more practice it becomes more fluid and less difficult, overall it was an enjoyable experience the outcome being much more positive than I anticipated.