Move beyond words; into feelings

Empathic listening is paying attention to another person with empathy [emotional identification, compassion, feeling, insight]. One basic principle is to "seek to understand, before being understood. Another basic principle is to connect emotionally with another person while simultaneously attempting to connect cognitively. An excellent technique to help one connect cognitively is called "active listening" whereby you repeat back to the person what you think she or he said to make certain you understand. A technique to connect emotionally is to ask how the person feels about the situation or perhaps to make a statement about how you believe the person feels.

For example, a student might say, "My dog got hit by a car this morning." An active listening response might be, "Your dog got hit by a car?" or "Was it hurt?" Another response might be, "I can see this has upset you. Do you want to talk about it?" Whatever the response, it is intended to clarify the facts or information being presented [obtain understanding] and to identify and respond to the emotions or feelings of the other person.

Empathy is not sympathy. Whereas sympathy is "feeling for someone," empathy is "feeling as someone."

Basic technique

  • Remind yourself that (a) respectful empathic listening is a gift you may giveand (b) it does not necessarily mean ‘I agree with you’!"

  • Temporarily set your own opinions and needs aside, and focus empathically on your partner:

    • watch their face, eyes, body, and hands. Note postures, motions, expressions, and gestures, or lack of these; and...

    • listen to their words and speech dynamics to guesstimate their main current thoughts,feelings, and needs. Then …

  • From time to time when the speaker pauses...

briefly (use a few words or a phrase, at most);

in your own words (avoid repeating theirs);

summarize the essence of what you believe they're thinkingfeeling emotionally and/or physically, and needing,...

without questions, comments, or solutions (this is the hard part!).

Use attentive posture; comfortable eye contact; and gestures, expressions, and intensity that match the speaker's.




  What Does Empathic Listening Sound Like?

  • "So you think that..."
  • "What you need now is..."
  • "You're anxious about..."
  • "Seems you're unsure of..."
  • "Wow! Really confusing (to you) !"
  • "You're really feeling..."
  • "You were frustrated enough to chew rocks..."
  • "You needed validation, not questions!"
  • "It seemed to you that..."
  • "...Pretty tough (for you), huh.
  • "Really mystifying..." (to you)..."
  • "You were furious with me then!"
  • "Miraculous!" (you thought)
  • "So you felt you were up against..."
  • "They totally missed your point!"
  • "Now you look really ___________."
  • "You don't need to speak now..."
Last modified: Wednesday, 30 July 2014, 11:41 AM