Listening With Empathy

Human beings have a vital need for their feelings and opinions to be recognized by others. Right up there with air, water and food, is the need to be loved, heard and understood. It is one of the ways we get evidence that we are loved. While scientists might disagree, therapists will probably smile and nod in concurrence. A search of literature will lend credence to the fact that children born challenged by hearing or speech will find a way to communicate, without words through other avenues.

This is why listening is one of the keys to mutually fulfilling relationships. Listening with empathy, the ability to hear, understand and communicate your understanding is at the core of our best interactions. Better listening equals better understanding. Listening:

* Promotes openness in relationships.
* Encourages others to share their ideas more willingly.
* Facilitates working relationships that produce creative solutions.
* Eliminates misunderstandings, communication errors and confusion.
* Improves your ability to better serve your customers.

People appreciate, respect and value others who are great listeners. Look into your own life. Think about how it felt the last time you tried to talk to someone you knew was not listening to you. Did you feel hurt, sad, angry or frustrated? Did you feel disrespected? Whether the other person seemed distracted, preoccupied or aloof, they did not give you the attention you believe you deserved. To you, it probably felt like they were disinterested.

There are often times we do not feel “heard,” but we may notice that we react differently under different circumstances. Indeed, there are several factors that influence our response to the communication, that is, the assumptions we make, the conclusions we draw and the actions we take. These factors include:

* The depth of one’s relationship with the other person
* One’s level of self-esteem or emotional well-being
* One’s identity
* Whether or not we have experienced the adverse behavior
* How many times we haven’t felt heard

For instance, if the relationship was not that important and your self-esteem is solid, you probably assumed that the person was rude. You may also have concluded that he or she was a jerk who didn’t deserve the information you were trying to provide. On the other hand, if your self-esteem is high and the relationship had a high value, you may have more empathy for the other person. However, if you considered the person (who ignored you or who just wasn’t attentive) was merely preoccupied with some more urgent matter, you may have concluded that this was not the best time to talk to him or her. If this has happened more than once, you may not be so quick to make excuses for the attempted listener. You assume that they don’t really care about you. Because, if they did, they would certainly be willing to put aside their own thoughts (or the newspaper) long enough to hear what you have to say. Numerous occurrences of not feeling heard can turn anger into frustration, infuriation or rage. The subsequent action you take is a direct correlate to your level of disappointment.

In your quest to get your point across, formulate your response or be on the winning side of a discussion or conversation, think of all the listening casualties in your wake. Consider how you felt when you weren’t heard the next time your spouse, boss or child desperately seeks your attention. Consider how alive you feel when you know someone truly understands.

It only takes a few minutes and three basic easy steps to really listen to another person with empathy.

Step One

Dedicate your mind and body to listening – suspend your judgment and evaluation of what is being said. Eliminate distractions. Don’t interrupt. Lean forward and encourage the speaker with nodding.

Step Two
Paraphrase the speaker’s words and feelings using a phrase beginning with “if.” E.g. “If I understand you correctly, you said…” Feelings are a critical aspect of paraphrasing if you are seeking to truly understand the other person. Feelings are access to empathy. E.g., “I’m also sensing that you are feeling…”

Since we interpret certain words and phrases differently, using the word “if” makes allowance for the fact that what we hear is merely our interpretation of what the speaker is saying.

Step Three 
Confirm your understanding until the speaker is satisfied that you fully understand. Repeat steps two and three as needed.

What we really care about, as human beings, is the quality of our relationships. We thrive in great relationships. As we become wiser, the quest for material things becomes less important than seeking mutual understanding and trust among the people we know. One of the greatest contributions you can make to another person is to listen with empathy. It may take practice, however, it will deepen and enrich your life.

To learn your listening style

Get Cathy Harris for an in-house program and get results:

Communication That Works!

One-Day Interactive Seminar

“Both your superb delivery and the genuine quality in presentation of ideas made this an excellent program for our project personnel. Special in the workshop was the communication and relationship skills that daily impact work and other interactions. Your humor, your down-to-earth examples, your interactive style, the application exercises – all made this a powerful delivery.” 

Dr.Margaret Hargroder, Director

University Southwestern Louisiana

Eliminate misunderstandings, communication errors and confusion.

Communication is lost, changed, distorted and filtered as it flows from idea to act. This includes strategic messages, product benefits, sales promotions and operational instructions. What gets lost affects your ability to earn repeat business, respond to your customers’ needs and increase profitability.

In a lively exchange with Cathy Harris, participants learn how to:

· Improve the quality of relationships with customers, family, friends and coworkers
· Discover and remove hidden communication barriers
· Recognize and avoid distortion of messages
· Receive and give feedback
· Improve productivity, business operations and increase profits
· Practice active and empathetic listening and earn others’ commitment and respect

Bring your toughest communication challenges and let Cathy work with you to achieve harmony in your relationships at work and at home. Laugh with her as you learn new approaches to improving the quality of your relationships through more effective communication skills.

This program is insightful, interactive, thought-provoking… Fun!

This program is custom-designed to maximize your human capital.

“The compliments poured in during the morning break, luncheon, and the rest of the day after your address to our members at the National Association of Women in Construction Region 5 Annual Forum.

Your audience felt energized, motivated and a greater sense of understanding of the needs and benefits of effectively communicating in their personal, business and civic environments.”

Barbara R Alleman, CCA
NAWIC Region 5
Forum Coordinator


“I have changed the way I approach disagreements. I now try first to understand the other person.”

Janet Akins, workshop participant


“Your seminar was enlightening. It also demonstrated the importance of creating an environment in which people feel comfortable enough to communicate openly, and to learn to cultivate the strengths that can result from the differences in our talents, styles, skills, and backgrounds.

This type of interaction will allow for greater openness, better communication, and forge a stronger bond between all of us.”

Ellen M. Hazeur
Clerk, First City Court
City of New Orleans, Louisiana
Phone: 800-924-2284 – Fax: 504-242-0423