Listening with Empathy

What is empathy?

Empathy means recognizing emotions in others. It is the capacity to put yourself in another person’s shoes and understand how they view their reality; how they feel about things. Empathy is more than just listening; it is also responding. For example, your teenage daughter comes home from school, rushes up to you, and gives you a big hug.

Empathic response. You say, “You seem so excited and happy!”

Other response. You ask, “What’s happening?”

The second response is fine, but it is not an example of empathy. The first response shows that you have paid attention to your daughter’s behavior, and you have included it in your response. She knows that you are paying close attention to her. Let’s look at another example. Your husband comes into your home office and sits down in the chair next to your desk. He doesn’t look at you and stares down at the paper he is holding.

____________________________________

Almost any conversation offers an

opportunity to be empathic. Pay

attention to the emotional content of

any interaction and you will probably

see a chance to respond empathically.

____________________________________

Empathic response. You say, “You look very upset.”

Other response. You say, “Uh-oh, you must be in trouble.”

As before, the second response is fine, but it is not an example of empathy. The empathic response shows that you have observed your husband’s behavior. The focus is on his feelings. The response is not about you; it is about him.

An empathic response concentrates on describing the other person’s feelings. It doesn’t matter whether your response is incorrect; the important thing is that you are paying attention and reflecting your observations back to the other person. Here are the keys to empathy:
• Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
• Pay attention to what the person is feeling.
• Listen to the person’s words and tone of voice, and pay attention to body language.
• Pay attention to your own feelings as you observe the other person.
• Put the feelings into words, keeping the focus on the other person.
• Keep it simple, and use your own words.
• Avoid repeating exactly what the other person has said. This is annoying, not empathic.
• Give the person a chance to respond to your comments. Don’t worry about being exactly right. The important thing is to listen closely and show that you want to understand.

WHY SHOULD I LEARN TO BE MORE EMPATHIC?

Being aware of our emotions and how they affect our actions is a key component of a successful relationship. It is also a fundamental ability in today’s people-intense workplaces. People who are cut off from their emotions are unable to connect with people. It’s as if they were emotionally tone deaf. No one wants to be around such people, because they have no idea how they affect others. You have probably met a few people who fit this description. Becoming an empathic listener has many benefits. Here are the most important ones:
• Keeping the focus on the other person’s feelings encourages him or her to open up and talk to you. When we are feeling strong emotions (good or bad), it feels good when another person listens to us and encourages us to talk about it.
• When you respond empathically, you show the other person that you are paying attention and that you care. This always feels good and helps build trust.
• Being listened to and understood has a calming effect when a person is upset.
• As you practice understanding other people, you will learn that almost everyone’s point of view can be understood if you take the time to pay attention.
• Your empathic response can help the other person better understand his or her own situation. Sometimes when people are really listening to us, they tell us things we couldn’t see for ourselves.

HOW CAN I LEARN TO BE MORE EMPATHIC?

Almost any conversation offers an opportunity to be empathic. Pay attention to the emotional content of any interaction and you will probably see a chance to respond empathically. Here are a few examples:

Example 1. You are working in the kitchen at home. Your daughter rushes in from the garage, grabs her jacket, and goes back out. She doesn’t look at you, but she seems very upset. What do you say or do when she returns home 30 minutes later? You could respond in many different ways.

Which of these is the most empathic response?
a. “You seemed pretty upset a while ago. Are you okay?”
b. “Do you want to talk about it?”
c. “Let me know if you need to talk.”

Example 2. Your son was getting a cold when he left for his part-time job this morning. Now it’s dinner time, and he walks in the door, looking awful.

Which is the most empathic response?
a. “How are you feeling?”
b. “You look like you could use some rest.”
c. “Take good care of yourself tonight, okay?”

Example 3. Yesterday, your daughter Sara spent several hours at the computer writing an essay. She was so proud of herself, because it was the first time she’d done a whole assignment like that without your help. Today, she came home from school looking very disappointed.  She said she had answered the wrong questions and had to do the assignment over.

Which is the most empathic response?
a. “What happened?”
b. “It’s upsetting when your work is for nothing, isn’t it?”
c. “Want to talk about it?”

Keep in mind that your response doesn’t have to be perfect. If you guess wrong about the other person’s feelings, he or she will tell you. The important thing is to listen closely and reflect back what you observe, keeping the focus on the person’s emotions.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: