The word empath refers to the ability of taking on another person’s perspective. You don’t just see things from another point of view, you feel them on an emotional level. Empathetic listening, also called reflective listening, entails the listener to receive and interpret what the speaker is communicating and offering a response. It more specifically defines understanding what others are saying at a deeper level than just active listening. This process demonstrates a mutual understanding and is an effective skill in building trust and strong relationships.
Have you ever felt the need to talk to someone about an important matter and got the feeling that they weren’t really paying attention to you. It can be really frustrating to feel unheard. Deep down everyone wants to be validated and having someone understand you and what you have to say can play a large part in our mental health. That need for connecting and a sense of belonging is a fundamental need humans all share. It’s a need that can only be met through empathy.
What is empathic listening?
Empathic vs empathetic definition
Empathetic and empathic listening are oftentimes used interchangeably in reference to this skill. Both of these terms are variants of the word empathy; however, there are some distinctive differences in the two. Empathetic is the accepted term when used in mainstream resources such as news publications or blogs. In most contexts this is the preferred sense of use because it is closely associated with the word sympathetic.
Empathic is most commonly used in scientific writing and writing on psychology. It is often used in nonscientific texts as well such as self-help text and in spiritual writing. In many American dictionaries, the word empathic is the preferred standard term to mean symbolized by empathy.
Being an empathic listener is a distinctive quality over being an empathetic listener. An empath is not quite the same as being empathetic. An empath can actually feel happiness or sadness from another person without knowing the cause of that person’s emotions. When they see a loved one crying, for instance, they can physically sense their emotions in their own body as though it is their experience as well. They might even feel their own tears welling up inside at seeing their loved one in distress.
Being empathetic, on the other hand, means your heart goes out to someone. You have a sense of what they may be feeling based on a similar experience you may have had. They may be crying over something you’ve experienced yourself or shared a similar circumstance and you can imagine how they feel. You may not have the ability to physically or emotionally feel what others are feeling, but you can still show empathy towards them regarding the matter.
What Does it Mean to Be an Empath?
A person may be described as an empath when they possess the ability to feel and sense the emotions of others. Their feelings are on a more intense level than what the average person interprets. Being an empath means you take in things at a higher sensitivity, being more in tune to the world around you. You have the capability of sensing others’ emotions to the extent that you might feel them on a physical level.
Empathic people are willing to listen and understand others rather than talking. They make great listeners because they are more receptive to what others are communicating, not just by what they are saying alone. They are more intuitive to the positive and negative energy that surrounds them. Empaths may also have the ability to determine whether someone is being honest or not based on subtle cues they may give off. They can pick up on minor things or may notice subtle changes that others have missed. They are capable of being open without criticizing or judging.
True empaths are generally very kind and compassionate people and are able to tap into others’ emotional needs to offer support. They genuinely love helping others and use their skill to help bring comfort and healing to others’ pain. They form deep bonds with others to build strong relationships and are loyal by nature. Empaths also tend to gravitate towards careers which require this skill such as therapists, social workers, and teachers.
How to Practice Empathy
You don’t have to be an empath to be able to express empathy towards others. It is a behavior that can be learned if you wish to be more receptive to others and provide emotional support. Developing empathy is dependent on the ability to possess cognitive, behavioral, emotional and moral qualities to effectively understand and respond to others.
In order to develop this trait you must be able to embrace different perspectives. This means you need to keep your mind open to various points of view outside of your own to establish empathy from within. Have consideration for the opinions of others who may be different from yours and try to gain an understanding from their point of view.
Put yourself in their shoes. When you are trying to understand someone who may be experiencing something you haven’t before imagine yourself as being in their place. Be supportive and offer encouragement. You could say something along the lines of ‘I can understand how that might be challenging,’ or ‘I can imagine what you must be going through.’ This can help you develop a connection with them without feeling awkward or coming off as fake.
Empathy often follows bravery. Be willing to stand up for others whether it’s in the workplace or among friends. Don’t shy away from sticking up for others when it is needed. Identify how you might relate to the person’s feelings or problems and make a stand. Coming to someone else’s defense can help develop empathy while improving your own moral value.
Reading offers many advantages and developing empathy can be one of them. Pick up a book and entertain your mind with the stories. Find a connection to the characters by drawing in from their emotions and the relationships in the stories. Opt for books with moral value and ones that offer life lessons you can gain from as you read.
Instill self-confidence. Being able to empathize with others comes with having acceptance in yourself. You have to find the confidence to believe in yourself and in your thoughts. New experiences can go a long way in helping you develop empathy and believing in your thoughts. If you have said words in past conversations you regret, learning from it by thinking first before giving your thoughts or opinions can help in the future conversations. Be comfortable with who you are. You are working towards developing empathy which signifies you are working on improving yourself. Taking that initiative is worth acknowledgement that you are striving to be your best.
Empathy can also be expressed through touch as a non-verbal communication. Placing a hand on a friend’s shoulder might display you are there for them and are supportive. Use your best judgement first and only use touch sparingly as a means of expressing empathy. Touch should only be used in a positive way to convey your support and never out of frustration or anger. You should be sure the other party is comfortable with this gesture before approaching them.
Empathetic Listening Skills
The ability to be an empathetic listener offers many benefits, especially in building work relationships and enhancing your career goals. It also helps you strive to be a better friend, teacher, and an effective communicator. Having this skill enables you to build trust and successfully negotiate or resolve a dispute.
There are many times in the workplace where team members may have to work together to collaborate on a solution to a problem. Having empathetic listening skills gives the disputants the opportunity to release their emotions and communicate with an appropriate response. People who possess these skills can have productive discussions with others they may not be in agreement with by standing as the mediator for collaborative problem solving. Tensions become less heightened as information is conveyed with acceptance from all parties even if it doesn’t end with a solution.
The skills of an empathetic listener requires patience, support, and kindness when listening to what others are saying. You get a sense of feeling to what the speaker is saying and respond with understanding and compassion so as not to cast judgement or make them feel defensive. Having this skill comes from being able to draw from your own experiences. As you are listening to someone else’s experience, find a connection that allows you to provide more heartfelt feedback.
Empathetic people show concern to the well-being of others and are naturally inclined to help. They are adept at creating a safe environment. People feel more drawn to these types of people to open up and talk freely without feeling criticized. Research even indicates that when you listen to others with empathetic ears you become more socially attractive.
We are all social creatures by nature, even if you think of yourself otherwise. Empathetic listening can play a huge part in our happiness as well as the happiness of others. The ability to successfully navigate social situations through this listening skill contributes to an overall sense of well-being. It’s a skill that has been implemented in school programs as part of developing healthy habits for happy kids. Seek first to understand, then to be understood is one of the leading habits that teaches the value of listening to others’ ideas and feelings.
Having empathetic listening skills portrays mutual understanding and it plays a vital role in the survival of humankind. Contrary to belief we do not succeed in life by survival of the fittest. It’s not being competitive, rather it comes from collaboration and coming to understand one another that we grow. Mutual understanding and assisting others’ needs is also beneficial in reducing our own distress.
Having these skills is an important factor in developing positive leadership skills as well. Think about how you would feel working under two different types of leaders. Would you feel more compelled to be productive under someone who is always barking orders at you and telling you what needs to be done or someone who is willing to hear what you have to say and offer practical solutions? Having the ability to listen with intent generates loyalty, engagement, and productivity from a team. It also promotes innovative collaboration to help businesses succeed.
Common Mistakes We Make When Listening
There is more to listening to others than simply waiting your turn to speak. What’s going on internally in your mind while someone else is speaking is equally important. It’s difficult to take in someone else’s feelings and emotions on a subject when your mind is somewhere else. Here are a few common mistakes we make that keep us from truly listening and understanding what the other person is trying to say:
Daydreaming – Have you ever caught yourself wondering off in thought while someone else was talking to you? We often lead very busy lives and it becomes easy for our minds to trail off even at the expense of someone’s conversation.
Thinking of a response – Planning on what you are going to say in response is another activity that often takes away from actively listening to someone else.
Listening with a specific outcome or goal in mind – this is close-minded listening where you are not allowing thought or consideration to other possible outcomes that are positive to everyone.
It happens to all of us, whether intentional or not. Mindful communication comes with regularly practicing and implementing empathy in engaging conversation. So let’s look at how we can improve our active listening skills to become better communicators.
Learning How to be an Empathic Communicator
Empathetic listening is a process where empathy is exhibited in social interaction and communicating with others in a way they feel their ideas and opinions are heard with validation. Being a responsive communicator means creating a comfortable space where others feel they can share their thoughts openly.
Make the time to listen when someone needs to speak with you by choosing an ideal time when you aren’t likely to be distracted. Minimize distractions by turning off your computer and putting your phone and other mobile devices away or on silent. Taking the time and measures to ensure you are providing them your full attention shows you respect them. Removing distractions tells them you want to hear what they have to say and their ideas are important.
Pay attention to body language
Body language plays an important role in letting others know you are listening and care about what they are wanting to share with you. Tap into their body language as well to get a sense of how they might be feeling. For instance, if they are tapping their feet or crossing their arms it may indicate they feel nervous or uneasy. Letting them see you are comfortable can help put them at ease and create a more comforting environment. Make eye contact and face the person who is speaking to you to give them your full attention.
Maintain a positive posture that shows you are open to listening to them. Keep your shoulders back and sit up straight. Refrain from crossing or closing your arms as this can give off a negative emotion. Instead arrange your arms openly in your lap or place them on the table or desktop. Be mindful of your facial expressions during conversation.
Acknowledge the speaker’s feelings
Acknowledge the feelings of the person you are talking with. Allow them to speak and refrain from interrupting, even if there are short pauses in their conversation. They may be struggling to find the exact words they are trying to express. You could paraphrase what was being said in your own words to imply understanding by means of ‘So you are saying that . . .’
Head gestures such as nodding up and down can also demonstrate you are listening and conveys a message of understanding. You can use brief phrases to let them know you hear what they are saying such as: ‘I see what you mean,’ ‘I understand how you feel,’ or ‘I can see why that bothers you’.
Having patience is a big key to developing affinity for others. Take time to listen to others and get all of the information before you respond. You can engage the conversation by asking open-ended questions such as ‘how do you feel about . . .’ then listen to what they have to say fully before responding with your opinion. Remain calm and polite, giving them your full attention. Avoid asking direct questions or make statements which dispute the facts that are being presented.
Watch your tone
It’s not just about what you are saying but how you say it that should be taken into consideration when you are responding to someone. The tone in your voice can communicate empathy or apathy and even sarcasm depending on your pitch, speed, and intonation. If you are quick in your response it could come off as negative or suggest you are annoyed or frustrated. An empathetic communicator speaks with understanding and compassion in their voice. Speak with a reasonable, confident tone that is natural. Talk calmly and slowly in your reply and phrases to help the other person feel comfortable.
Learn more about people
Take the time to really get to know people better by hearing about their background and learning their interests.This can take place over casual lunches or informal meetings out of the workplace. Check in on others when you feel in your gut that something might be off. Ask how they are doing and be genuine, not just as a casual greeting. You could say something like ‘I feel as if something might be bothering you. Is there anything you would like to talk about?’ Be genuine with them and ask how you can best support them.
You don’t always have to agree or disagree with the conversation but listening without judgement is a fundamental factor in empathetic communication. Of course, this is easier said than done and comes with much practice. When someone comes to you with something they need to relay, be present and receive the message without bias to the matter. Your presence and mindfulness to the speaker is more important than a response. If they do not directly ask for your input they may just need someone who is willing to listen. You can always ask once they are done speaking if they would like to hear your input on the matter.
Offer encouragement and wisdom
When someone is speaking to you in confidence they are putting their trust in you to speak about something they may be struggling with emotionally. They may be turning to you for your opinion because they respect your feedback. Before offering your opinion carefully consider the circumstances over the problem to get a full understanding of the situation. For example, suppose your friend is confronting you with a problem they have with someone else such as a mutual friend or a coworker. You can acknowledge their emotions in your feedback while also taking into consideration the other party’s challenges they might be facing. Being an empathetic communicator means you refrain from criticizing and remain mindful and considerate to the feelings of all parties involved.
When someone has taken the time or put their trust in talking to you about something that may be emotionally challenging, acknowledge them with gratitude. Let them know you appreciate their trust in you to talk to you about the matter. Thank them for sharing their feelings with you and offer encouragement to let them know they can come to you whenever they need.
Empathetic listening is needed to let others know and feel as though they matter and what they have to say is worth hearing. Developing the skills necessary to implement empathy takes time and really coming to know oneself. Practice these skills daily in regular conversation and take time to build and establish healthy relationships.