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Three Steps to Empathetic Listening

by Julie Fuimano

Do you take the time and effort to hear what other people are saying so that you understand what they are trying to communicate? When was the last time you felt truly heard and understood? We all have an underlying need to be understood.

Oftentimes, people are too busy, they don't make the effort, or they simply don't know how to listen empathetically to others. And it is because of this that people have difficulty getting in touch with their feelings and they harbor negative emotions about others. It is also one reason why there is so much conflict in relationships both at work and at home.

In fact, poor communication costs us greatly. In organizations, it contributes to negativity and poor morale, and leads to decreased productivity, unsatisfactory work relationships, decreased profits, and high staff turnover.

And it can be deadly for relationships-romantic, familial, and friendships-which will crumble without a foundation of respect and good communication.

What does it mean to be empathetic? It means to stand in someone else's shoes and look at life from their reference point. For that moment, you attempt to look at and assess the situation through their eyes.

It does not mean that you must agree, simply that you understand what they are saying and how they are feeling. When you can relate to another at this level, you respect them as a human being.

Empathy means standing in someone else's shoes and looking at life through their reference point

And it is this need that people have to feel respected-for simply being alive, for having thoughts and ideas and a perspective-that lessens people's fear of insignificance. It makes people feel important when you show them that they matter simply by listening to them.

Communication is a powerful tool, perhaps the most powerful tool we have as human beings. It has the power to hurt or heal, hinder or help, tear down, tear apart, or bring together.

Only 7% of communication is verbal. This means, it is what you say when you are not speaking that matters most. This includes your actions, body language, and presence-how you show up in the world through your attitude, mood, and energy-as well as how you do what you do, how you say what you say, and your ability to listen to understand.

Master the skill with these steps

There are three steps to mastering the skill of listening:

1. Give the person your full attention

This is not a time to multitask. If you are doing something else, then your attention is there and not on listening to understand. For example, if you're washing dishes and your child wants to tell you something, stop what you're doing and turn to your child.

If you need a few minutes to finish that project or email before comfortably being interrupted by an employee, then let the person know that. Create the space you need to be able to listen completely. This empowers you to take control of your interruptions and to choose what you focus on in any given moment


2. Don't talk while the other person is talking

Your job is to hear what they are saying and listen for the heart of the message, what's going on behind the words. The fact is that many people have difficulty getting their thoughts out of their mouths in a cohesive way. Be curious. What is the point they are trying to make? What do they want you to know? What do they need from you? Only speak to ask questions that will clarify what you are hearing so that you can better understand them, and so they can better understand themselves.

3. Summarize what you heard

This is important because it shows them that you are listening and that you really get what they are saying. If you didn't hear correctly or completely, let the person provide additional information and then repeat your understanding of what they have said.

It sounds simple and it is, but like any change, it will require diligent attention, practice, and continued development and improvement. You will need to exercise self-control and muster patience especially if you have bad communication habits.

Some bad habits you may need to replace

As you begin to pay closer attention to your behavior, you may find that you have developed some really poor habits when it comes to listening. You cannot change a habit; you have to replace it with a new one.

Since awareness is the key to change, here are several common habits that you may recognize:

  • Interrupting with your own ideas and thoughts.

  • Finishing the person's sentence for them as if you know what they are saying or to hasten the conversation.

  • Changing the subject to focus on a thought you had so the conversation shifts to you and away from them.

  • Focusing on solving their problem rather than simply listening and discovering what they need from you.

  • Thinking about something other than what the person is saying-having your mind drift away to other subjects, thinking about how you will respond, or doing something else while the person is speaking so your attention is elsewhere.

Sometimes, you don't want to hear what the person is telling you and you become defensive. This should signify that there is a lesson here for you.

What are you defending? Are you too attached to your ideas or to being right? Are you taking something personally? Use this emotion as a message for self-discovery. What is this message of "defensiveness" trying to communicate to you?

Empathetic listening is about uncovering and experiencing for yourself what other people are experiencing. Remember, you don't have to agree; just step into their shoes to see the world from their perspective.

When you focus your attention on understanding, acknowledging the individual, and helping the person to express their own truth, you build credibility and make them feel that they matter. When people feel accepted and respected, they are more productive, more willing to cooperate, and more amenable to change.

The simple act of listening builds bridges of trust, mends hearts, creates strong connections, and deepens relationships. It is well worth the effort.

Julie Fuimano, MBA, RN of Nurturing Your Success Inc., is an executive and personal coach with a passion for helping people take the challenging journey to a new level of success. Contact Julie at (610) 277-2726 or email: Julie@NurturingYourSuccess.com to arrange a coaching consultation. Fuimano is a popular motivational speaker, internationally renowned writer, and author of the life manual and confidence builder: The Journey Called YOU: A Roadmap to Self-Discovery and Acceptance - available wherever books are sold. Sign up for her inspiring e-newsletter at NurturingYourSuccess.com.

Some Related Articles:

How to Use Empathy to Unleash Reserves of Potential
How to Develop Compelling People Skills
Listening When You Don't Want To
Are You Listening Beyond All the Noise?


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