Active listening is one’s ability to focus on what is being said to understand it., while empathic listening is active listening plus efforts to understand the context and a person’s perspective during the narration.
Hearing is 1D (only allowing sound pass hit the eardrums but making no meaning), active listening is 2D, while empathic listening is 3D because it gets the full dimensions of what is being said.
The concept of empathic listening is one I have come across on several occasions. Some of these involve interpersonal interactions, others involve professional interactions between clients and professionals, and so on.
The ability for empathic listening is a must-have for everyone who desires be make good judgments or provide lasting solutions to other people.
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What is empathic listening?
Is there anything like “not listening well enough”? Empathic listening is what you could describe as “complete listening”. It takes into account not only the meaning of what is being said but also the context, the speaker’s perspectives, and the speaker’s point of view.
For example, there is a difference between one saying “Do you mean you could not go to work today?” and one saying “I understand you might not be feeling fine. Is that why you couldn’t go to work today?”.
The two scenarios give the same understanding that the speaker did not go to work that day, but the second scenario (empathic listening) makes an attempt to understand the speaker’s situation and context surrounding the event. This is a deeper kind of listening that builds trust and connection with the speaker.
Importance of Empathic Listening
Empathic listening finds useful applications in several personal, professional, and vocational areas. Some areas where empathic listening is applied are listed as follows:
Family relationships between spouses, parent-to-children, etc.
Professional consultations like therapy sessions, or doctor’s evaluations.
Learning a skill from someone who has great experience in the vocation.
Public speaking is connected with what your audience thinks feels or knows.
Conflict resolutions between two or more people.
The list is not exhaustive but here is just to mention a few ways empathic listening can be applied for greater results.
How to develop empathic listening
Developing empathic listening involves paying close attention to other seemingly unrelated aspects of the person and what they say in order to make complete sense of it. Here are some specific ways to develop empathic listening from now on.
1. Ask the right questions
Just like active listening, asking the right question is also important in empathic listening but questions in empathic listening are often deeper than those of active listening.
“How are you taking care of yourself in this situation?”
“What can I do to be of more support to you?”
“Is there anything you need that could help this situation right now?”
“What do you think is the best next step?”
Two things you can observe from the above questions are; they are probing deeper into the context of the situation, and they are common questions used in consultations, further buttressing the importance of empathic listening for such situations.
2. Don’t be in haste
Empathic listening focuses on providing a deep solution to the problem at hand. It is not simply about understanding what the person is trying to say and hastily telling them what to do. It is about understanding the person in question and preferring solutions that they can agree with.
Being able to connect with the person deeply makes them trust you and agree to observe what you tell them to do, and vice-versa. You need to take time to listen to all the circumstances before jumping to a conclusion.
Another example of poor empathic listening that I have noticed is among those that claim to forgive easily. This makes one forgive without listening to all the situations surrounding the case.
For example, someone who wronged you might want to explain to you what prompted them to do what they did and how they could have prevented it, alongside their apologies, but if you are not empathic in your listening, you might skip all that part and forgive too early without the details.
Those other little details make the person feel more confident that you actually forgave them, make you take quality decisions concerning the situation, and also make the offender learn ways to act better from the suggestions you might make to them.
3. Hear both sides of the story
Empathic listening is also applied in conflict resolution as mentioned earlier. To be able to capture the in-depth meaning of the case, you need to take into account the circumstances surrounding the case as seen from both sides of the story.
Empathic listening prompts you to actively understand the individual context of the case and strike a balance between them. Most times, understanding both sides of a story and communicating it to the conflicting partners is all that is needed to solve the problem and resolve the conflict.
Not listening to both sides or assuming you already understand the situation is a very dangerous assumption that can prolong the conflict or even make it worse. No two cases are exactly alike. Thus, no matter how many similar cases you may have experienced, this one is special in its own rights.
4. Be more interested in the “why”
Take, for example, someone stepped on your toes. Do you act first by giving them a hot slap on their face? You want to first know why that happened. It could be by chance or mistake as the case usually is.
The same applies to empathic listening. You are more interested in the reason and this is where the “why” questions come into place. As part of asking the right questions, asking for the reasons makes the person feel that you understand their human part and can help them feel more comfortable with you.
Empathic listening does not seek to ask the “why” questions to condemn the person but to understand them as though the listener and the subject are both the same person. It is simply putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.
5. Pick out non-verbal cues and unspoken deductions
Communication is not only about speech and noises. Non-verbal aspects of communication also exist. In fact, these non-verbal aspects give complete meaning to what is being said.
Two people can say the same thing and mean different things. For example, I could say “Yes, I did” to a question of who took the apple, while rolling my eyes to the ceiling and holding my hands behind my back, and this will mean differently from saying “Yes, I did” while staring to the floor and holding my hand in front of me.
Non-verbal cues help you understand the full context of what is being said. In a learning environment where you are trying to understand what your teacher is saying, non-verbal cues help you understand their own personal experiences concerning the topic they are discussing before you.
No-verbal and unspoken deductions are what make one student understand which of two or several approaches is preferred by the teacher even without the teacher mentioning it directly.
6. Focus on the way forward
Being solution-oriented is one of the characteristics of an empathic listener. It is the core element behind trying to understand the context of this index case. Focusing on the way forward allows you to ask the right questions, as well as patiently wait to get the full details.
For example, if a younger fellow spills water on the floor, do you immediately yell at them and give them a hard knock for doing so? You want to know why they did what they did so because this can get you closer to the solution. They may not be aware of the water spill but by making them aware, they can take better actions to clean up the mess.
The way forward looks beyond the current problem into what can and should be done to remedy it. And even if you need to offer punishments, the offender would come to better terms with it and accept it in good faith while they work to improve next time.
Some Quotes About Empathic Listening
Here, we see some quotes by popular writers about empathic listening.
“Listening has the quality of the wizard’s alchemy. It has the power to melt armor and to produce beauty in the midst of hatred.” – Brian Muldoon
“Being listened to by someone who understands makes it possible for persons to listen more accurately to themselves, with greater empathy toward their own visceral experiencing, their own vaguely felt meanings” – Carl Rogers
“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” – Anonymous
“Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘you are not alone’.” – Brené Brown
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway
“When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two-thirds of the time thinking about what they want to hear and one-third thinking about what I want to say.” – Abraham Lincoln
I am a medical doctor, a seasoned writer and passionate blogger. Thanks to many years of trials, failure, and near successes. I am the founder of Knowseeker and our content are geared towards enlightening and making you a better and happier audience.