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Empathic Listening

Posted By Claudia Kenny, NYSAMP Statewide Director, Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Empathic listening - what exactly is this? And how do you do it?

When I think of empathy I think of it as an active state, a choice and something of a practice, something we can learn to get good at.  There are some different components of empathy that we can practice and that can help us learn to be empathic listeners.

Practicing presence- Be present for another person by resting attention on what they are saying.  Sometimes this is referred to as listening from the heart.  To be able to listen from the heart you need to be present or rest attention with self as well. Resting attention with self and other requires letting go of thinking. 

Silent Empathy- This is thinking about and understanding another’s experience from their frame of reference.  Sometimes referred to as standing in another’s shoes.  You can practice silently guessing some of their values and deeper needs and trying to understand what is most important to them as you listen.

Following vs. leading- We listen to where the speaker wants to go with the conversation and try not to lead them to where we think they ought to go. 

Focus on connection rather than an outcome - Empathic listening is not about fixing, changing someone or making anyone feel better or solving a problem.  It is about understanding and connecting to another’s experience. 

Reflecting back understanding and meaning in a way that allows the speaker to feel heard.  This could be by using some of the same language they used almost word for word. It could be choosing some of their thoughts or feelings to reflect back. It also could mean guessing some of the needs or values that might be important to them in the situation.  You do not need to agree with them to show that you understand and respect their internal frame of reference.

Finally we can practice loving kindness by suspending judgement or holding each person in respect- knowing that they are doing the best they can and wishing the best for them. 

Any of these skills can be practiced individually and together they form the active state of empathic listening.  Try to consciously practice empathic listening in your next mediation or other interaction and see how it changes the interaction for both you and those around you.


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