Empathic Listening

My daughter told me a few years ago that I needed to stop putting words in her mouth. She explained that when she paused, I would jump in and say things I thought she was going to say.

I felt wounded.

I thought I was really, really listening, so much so that I was with her, concentrating on each sentence she was saying! And–it was wonderful feedback. I realized later I was on the fourth level of listening, as Stephen R. Covey says in The 7th Habits of Highly Effective People. He explains five levels of listening:

  1. Ignoring another person who is talking to us–smart phones make this really easy.

2. Pretending to listen, “Yeah, uh-huh, right.”

3. Selective listening– hearing only certain parts of the conversation.

4. Attentive listening where we are paying attention and focusing energy on the words that are being said.

But very few of us ever practice the 5th level, the highest form of listening, empathic listening.

Steven R. Covey continues:

“Empathic listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.”

“The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.”

“Empathic listening involves much more than registering, reflecting, or even understanding the words that are said. Communications experts estimate, in fact, that only 10 percent of our communication is represented by the words we say. Another 30 percent is representative by our sounds, and 60 percent by our body language. In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also , more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel. “

Empathic listening is a skill, because we have to take time and not be distracted, and not volunteer our own experiences. As I have been learning this new way of listening, I am catching myself not saying, “Well, wait until you hear what happened to me!” So much of the time, I find I am shutting up, so I can listen better.

Can you imagine if our children got really good at this? How this would help any endeavor they were involved in–school, work, marriage, and raising their own children? Can you envision if we as parents got good at it, as well? No more jumping in, interrupting, or directing. Just listening and reframing what they said to us, back to them. If we are to have our children’s hearts, loving, emphatic listening is a wonderful way to invite them back to us.

One thought on “Empathic Listening

  1. Pingback: Emotional Bank Accounts: Part One – "Peace Like A River…"

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