Mind and Body
The many benefits of empathic listening
It is said that the number one skill required in being able to communicate effectively is the ability to listen. As you might already realise, listening is different to hearing.
There is a lot of buzz about active listening – where your focus is entirely on the words that are coming out of the person you are listening to. Active listening makes the person talking feel like they are being heard. Now, that is a good thing by any account.
What is empathic listening?
According to an article in Educational Psychology Interactive, empathic listening is defined as “Paying attention to another person with empathy (emotional identification, compassion, feeling, insight)”.
In other words, putting yourself in the shoes of the other person, in an attempt to understand why they are saying what they are saying. You are getting in touch with that person’s goal for speaking to you. It is taking your connection with that person to the next level.
If you have read my previous articles, you will realise that I am a big advocate of having more empathy. Empathy is a very powerful tool when dealing with others because it allows us to be more human.
Here are 4 tips on how to engage in empathic listening:
- Be present – this sounds so basic and simple. Yet, it can be overlooked very easily. I remember attending a job interview when I was working in the financial planning sector. The director of a boutique financial planning firm was asking me interview questions in his office. He at his computer screen and drafting a response to an email, while I was responding to his questions. Whenever he started typing, I would stop talking. While typing, he kept saying “Keep going, I am listening”. Was he really listening? That is why you have to be fully present, without any distractions. Take three deep and slow breaths, sit straight, and look at the person who is talking. Turn your phone off, avoid looking at anything else in the room/building/place, and refrain from paying attention to any sounds or noise.
- Comprehend, not compose – your goal is to comprehend what the person is saying, instead of composing a response for them. It is very easy to start thinking about what to say while the other person is talking. If you do that, you will not be present. Your goal is to understand what that person is saying. Ask them questions or paraphrase what they have said in order to gain clarity on what they are saying. Once you are able to comprehend what is being said, you will be in a better position to respond and/or provide support. Being understanding is the key here. The person who is talking must be able to feel that you are understanding them.
- Avoid interrupting – as an empathic listener, your goal is to listen with undivided attention. If you start interrupting the person who is talking, you will do two things – 1.) Make that person feel that you are not listening to them. 2.) Prove that what you have to say is more important than what they have to say. Let them finish what they are saying. While they are talking, keep validating what they are saying with a nod or with a “Yes” or “Okay”. If you feel like you have to really say something, gain their permission first. In my coaching and mentoring career, empathic listening was the most important trait in every single session regardless of whether it was a CEO or a teenager sitting across the table from me. If there was a need to stop that person from speaking, (as a coach/mentor, that had to be done at times), I would gently ask “Can I please ask a question right now?” That made the person feel valued.
- Observe non-verbal communication – pay close attention to non-verbal communication. If the person you are listening to starts breathing heavily, and assures you that they are doing just fine, chances are that they are not. Observe their physiology. Is it congruent with their vocal messages? If their physiology is not congruent to their verbal communication, you can check in on them by asking open ended questions like “What would you like me to do now?” or “What is making you breathe heavily?” That will make them open up to you. Asking open ended questions will allow you to elevate and elongate the conversation if their verbal communication and their physiology is sending mixed messages.
Whether you are in management or are a stay at home parent, empathic listening will allow you to be more impactful when communicating with others.
There are many other keys to emphatic listening. Please research and study empathic listening, and practise it in detail.
Empathy can be learnt. It is well worth having more empathy.
Quote: “Empathic listening takes time, but it doesn’t take anywhere near as much time as it takes to back up and correct misunderstandings when you’re already miles down the road; to redo; to live with unexpressed and unsolved problems; to deal with the results of not giving people psychological air.”Stephen Covey
I sincerely hope that you have gained a simple insight into how you can use empathic listening to enhance your communication skills.
Influencing you to your excellence,
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