Empathetic listening is the practice of being attentive and responsive to others’ input during the conversation.
Listening with empathy entails establishing an emotional connection with the other person and finding similarities between their experience and your own so you can give a more heartfelt response. Also called "active listening" or "reflective listening," listening with empathy requires you to consider the other party's input. One leading quality of empathic listening is giving support and encouragement rather than advice or criticism.
Precisely, empathetic listening is all about establishing a connection. It happens when you deliberately slow things down and seek to understand others' inner worlds, i.e., you seek to understand first before being understood. Empathic listening means taking in what another person is saying—or not saying—with the intent to understand and relate to them on a human level.
Empathetic listening is similar to its counterpart, active listening. Both forms of listening require profound attention to another person to understand them better. But unlike active listening, empathic listening puts a particular emphasis on understanding the other person's emotional experience. Where active listening may readily result in a list of action items, empathetic listening is focused on a more robust connection among teammates and a clearer understanding of another person's needs, motivations, and perceptions.
Empathetic listening asks you to go beyond the surface of what is being said to unpack why and how it is being said and get to know someone's emotional experience—and empathize with it. This kind of listening goes beyond the literal and even beyond the subtext of what has been said to the emotion beneath it.
With empathetic listening, you can create a space where others feel safe being themselves, laying the foundation for open and honest communication between the speaker and the listener.
How to teach empathetic listening to your students?
Here are a few tips and strategies that you may implement to help your students become empathic listeners.
Teach them to:
Develop good listening habits
To teach students to listen in an empathetic manner, you first need to develop good listening habits. You may begin by teaching your students these essential listening habits:
- Let the speaker speak. Do not cut them off.
- Try not to say, "I know what it feels like."
- Show your interest in things that are said.
- Make sure you understand what the person is saying.
- Try not to think about what you are going to say while someone is still speaking.
- Do not judge what the person is telling you.
- Keep an open mind.
Listen and understand
An empathic listener must patiently listen to what the other has to say, even if you disagree. It is essential to accept, but not necessarily agree, by nodding or adding phrases such as "I understand" or "I see."
Try to get an idea of the speaker's feelings and keep in mind the emotional content delivered and the literal meaning of the words.
Use a "reflection" approach, which means thinking of yourself as a mirror. See how you would have felt if you were the speaker. Then, repeat the speaker's thoughts and feelings back to them. Encourage the speaker to continue the message, do not interrupt.
Unlike most people who listen to respond, try understanding the listener then come to any conclusion. Do not seek an opportunity to respond with one's thoughts and opinions. This might be not very comforting because it causes us to respond based on our thoughts and feelings, not understanding what the speaker wants to convey. Also, it is essential to pay attention to the thoughts and feelings of the person speaking, and empathetic listening requires understanding the problem from the speaker's point of view.
Know empathetic listening steps
There are four steps to listening empathically; you need to teach how to practice these:
Step 1: Copy what is stated: Repeat what you mean to understand better. Repeat the exact way you think you heard it.
Step 2: Tell what you hear: Repeat words that have been spoken without adding anything else.
Step 3: Consider what it feels like: Try and understand the sentiment expressed in what has been said, going beyond what you think you have heard.
Step 4: Repeat what you heard and think about the feeling:
This combines steps two and three to understand the message.
To be an empathic listener, it is necessary to understand and avoid misunderstandings. Even if empathic listening takes a long time, it does not take time and effort to correct a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding usually occurs when a person does not adequately understand the meaning or intent of another person's words or actions. In other words, the message to be sent is not the same as the message received.
The problem with a misunderstanding is that you cannot begin to correct it until you realize that there has been a misunderstanding. Hearing empathically can help prevent misunderstandings from occurring. Teach your students that the more they listen to others, the less confusion there will be.
Not to be non-judgmental
It is not always easy, but giving up one's own opinions allows you to focus on another person's perspective. Recognition of someone's opinions and emotions helps you to help them. It does not mean you have to agree with everything the person says; it is about letting them know that you care about them, that they are essential.
An essential part of listening with empathy is to refrain from criticizing each other, whether out loud or yourself. You may disagree with something the speaker said, but consider their reasons for saying it.
Understand that listening is all it takes
As previously mentioned, listening with great attention is vital to becoming an empathic listener. It implies a calm and relaxed state of mind, free from the desire to "fix" somebody or solve their problems for them. It does not involve giving advice or intervening in any way. If our minds are busy coming up with solutions for the speaker, we fail to listen genuinely. Thus, we must teach to students understand the speaker or his/her intent behind the conversation.
Respond with acceptance
Excellent and attentive listeners are motivated to understand how others feel, and their experiences have affected them rather than putting forward their thoughts and opinions. Pepper in supportive body language such as eye contact, nodding, and other appropriate signs to announce your attention without interrupting. The sincere interest and concern of listeners allow others to safely share their vulnerabilities, as they feel that what they say will be received without judgement.
Accept conflict as part of real-life learning
In a learning community where learners are encouraged to be honest and express what they perceive as a level of risk. There are possibilities of increased conflict between learners, and working through complicated feelings can take longer. However, when we stay connected and stick to the process, conflict can catalyze positive change. When a conflict can be resolved, relationships are often strengthened. We also need to teach students that they may encounter various conflicts in life and accept them as part of real-life learning.
Ask authentic questions and find out more
Teach students to ask authentic and open-ended questions like "Could you, please tell me more about that?" or "What did you experience?" such questions guide speakers to share more deeply. In addition, such questions are motivated by the desire to learn more truthfully (instead of reinforcing preconceived ideas). If they think they have not understood something, listeners may repeat what they think they have heard and seek clarification. "Did I hear correctly?"
An empathic listener should not make the speaker from feeling or becoming defensive. To do this, you must avoid asking direct questions, arguing with what is being said, or disputing facts.
Treat others' frankness as a gift
To be an empathetic listener, it is essential to honour the trust that others have put in you.
Do not fear silence
A sympathetic listener usually remains calm and calm while listening, and this is what speakers sometimes need; they want to be heard or know that you are listening. Students must understand that they must pay attention to the context and quality of silence before answering. The person may think about what to say next or need some moments of silence to control their emotions.
Reword and paraphrase
If you speak, refer to the person's words, ask questions and clarify comments if necessary. Keep that sense of non-judgment and respect, and give the person time to respond. Keep in mind; there is no script for Empathic Listening. The answer according to the person, the situation and the moment.
Keep a follow-up
Ask whether they have any questions or comments. Arrange for another meeting if required.
To help you understand, here are some examples of empathetic listening:
- Swati's classmate suddenly informs her that she will soon leave her school between the two. Concerned, Swati asks her, saying, "would you like to share the reason and if there is something she can do to help?" While other classmates express concerns, Swati listens patiently—without giving her advice.
- Rohan abstained from the group discussions; he found it difficult to speak and present his arguments. His colleague, Raj, notices this. The next time, Raj agrees to invite Rohan to speak without putting her on the hot seat.
- Somi likes to work on homework/projects with her friends, so when the teacher assigns her a project with other students, she expresses her disappointment. Her colleagues find an opportunity to convince their teacher to allow her to work with them to perform well.
Each of these examples of empathetic listening indicates that you must listen before reacting, making assumptions or making judgments. The speaker is looking for an opportunity to express feelings and emotions. This not only helps you understand others but also encourages positive interactions in the real world.
How do you listen in your day-to-day life? Which strategies did you use on your students?