Developing empathy and becoming an Empathic Listener is learning to act, be, and care about others, as well as, learning to control and understand our own emotions.
“Mark, would you please take me to the office to get my car?” Diane asked a second time.
Mark grabbed his jacket and stormed out, slamming the front door.
“What’s wrong with you?” Diane yelled, rushing out the front door to catch up. “I don’t get it. The car is fixed and it didn’t cost a penny. Nobody was hurt. I didn’t even get docked pay for the day off. I have plenty of sick time. I just don’t get it (How To Hear What People Are Really Saying).
Mark stopped and turned toward her. His eyes wide with eyebrows pulled down in the middle. With clenched teeth he yelled, “Get in the car.”
Diane jumped in the car just as Mark jammed the car into gear, “Would you please wait? I need to fasten my belt.”
He didn’t seem to hear her as the car jumped out of the driveway onto the street in front of another car that had to slam on his breaks to avoid hitting them. Diane could still hear the other guy’s horn as Mark “fishtailed” down the street.
“What is your problem?” she yelled as she hung on for dear life.
“Nothing,” he yelled back.
“Here we go one more time,” Diane said just barely audible lips pursed into a pout with chin jutting out. “I wish you’d just talk to me and tell me what’s wrong.”
“Nothing,” he yelled back again.
Diane sat perfectly still with fists clenched in her lap, not moving a muscle.
They pulled into the parking lot of Diane’s office. The car was sitting in her parking space. To Diane, it looked as if nothing had happened.
Mark pulled into the parking space next to Diane’s car.
“I’m driving it,” Mark growled.
“It’s my car,” Diane growled back, but it was too late. Mark was already behind the wheel of her car. She threw-up her hands as she walked around to the driver’s side.
“What is his problem? I wish he’d just talk to me, let me into his thoughts. I can’t begin to understand if he won’t talk at all.
“Research shows that the better someone listens, the more connected that person feels with the person who is talking. This produces a feeling of bonding and closeness.” – Gavin
Image by Geralt from Pixabay
What is Empathy and Empathic Listening
“Empathy is the ability to imagine what someone else is feeling. Empathic listening is about really understanding the person who’s talking to you. That means it goes beyond active listening, for which the listener uses nods, listening posture and listening sounds like ‘yeah, yeah’ and ‘hmm’ to encourage the person speaking to continue talking. Empathic listening goes a step further. It’s not just listening, but actually hearing what is being said and understanding what the other is trying to say.” – Toolshero
It’s like trying to see through the other person’s eyes, to see the world the way they see it, to truly understand their frame of reference. It involves listening with all of our physical faculties, plus our heart and mind.
Empathic Listening is very important in cultivating personal and professional relationships because it is a form of respect and understanding. It makes conversations more meaningful, inspirational and fulfilling. It also helps to build trust.
I hear you saying, “That’s all well and good, but how do you actually listen empathically? How can you fully, deeply, understand another person? How do you get to the place where you can see the situation from their perspective, like walking in their shoes? How can you learn to be empathic?
We can’t see another person’s perspective and their feelings if we aren’t in tune with our own emotions.
The scientific community is discovering the importance of Empathy in a person’s day to day life. It’s not only important in listening and communicating with others, but it also helps us respond appropriately in challenging situations.
Benefits of Empathy
We aren’t born with empathy or with the ability to be empathic. It is a learned skill. Empathy is important because:
- It helps us relate to and understand others.
- Empathy helps you resolve conflicts and manage disagreements better.
- It helps us accurately predict how others are going to react in different situations.
- Empathy helps us be more tuned into our surroundings, which gives us more confidence in expressing our own point of view.
- It gives others around us comfort because we can feel their emotional pain.
- Empathy helps us build stronger personal and professional relationships.
- It’s easier to forgive others because we can see things from their perspective, understand where they are coming from, and why they reacted the way they did.
- We become more aware of our body language and how we come across to others.
- Empathy helps to build trust and allows others to relate to us.
- It helps avoid misunderstandings and strained relationships
How to Develop Empathy
- Connect with Yourself – Before you can have empathy for, or understand, anyone else you must understand and be able to connect with yourself. Identify your emotions and become aware of your own body language.
- Express Appreciation – Make a habit of expressing appreciation for others, especially those closest to you – say thank you for the little things. Ask questions like: What can I do for you? What do you need? Practice expressing empathy.
- Become an Observer – Take time to observe how people express their feelings. Watch their body language and other non-verbal communication.
- Put Yourself in Their Shoes – Ask yourself, “How would I feeling in this situation?”, “What is this person feeling?” Start by identifying your emotions and point of view. Next, imagine the other person’s point of view. How often do you attempt to feel what the other person feels?
- Keep Your Promises to Others – This builds trust with the other person so they will feel comfortable being open and honest with you.
- Examine Your Attitude – Keep a log of how you, your perspective, and your attitude impact others.
- Give More Thought To Others – Do you spend time thinking about your co-worker or spouse, what they are going through, or how they must feel during different situations?
- Validation – Practice validating the other person’s perspective and feelings, whether you agree or not. Validation does not mean agreement. It’s not about you.
- Eliminate Prejudices – Many of us do not realize we are prejudiced. When a person of a different race, gender or religion approaches you, how do you react? What do you feel?
- Become Curious – Become curious about other people. Look for reasons and opportunities to engage with people that you normally wouldn’t connect with. Read widely to include perspectives of others who live or have lived lives very different from yours. Develop a sincere interest in others. What can they teach you?
- Focus on Active, Attentive Listening – Reflect, paraphrase thoughts and feelings back to the speaker to verify understanding.
- Ask for feedback – About your behavior, decisions, and words.
- Be Willing to Share –Your passions and interests with others.
Diane thought about the last time she was in the counselor’s office discussing her communication problems with Mark. She reviewed the instructions the counselor had given her. She really did want to communicate with him. She did want to be an empathic listener. She knew they’d have a much closer relationship if they could communicate on a heart level. It was time to practice empathy.
“I get really frustrated and angry when he shuts down like this when he won’t just say what’s on his mind. I get so angry I end up screaming because he won’t just talk to me and tell me what’s going on in his head.”
She thought for a few minutes. “He’s obviously angry, but I don’t know why. That’s the place to start.”
Diane had been home for about an hour when Mark pulled into the driveway. He wasn’t driving so erratically, so perhaps he was calmer. He took his time coming into the house. It was understandable because they’d usually have a big fight after one of these events. But, this time Diane made a promise to herself to do things differently.
Doing Things Differently
Mark came into the kitchen and sat at the kitchen table like he expected the usual fight.
After a few minutes, “Okay, let me have it,” he said.
Diane sat at the table across from him. She took a few minutes before speaking, “I really appreciate you driving my car home so you could see if it was okay.”
Mark raised his head to look at her, “Thank you,” he said. “But, I thought you’d be angry that I drove it home.”
“Honestly, I was at first only because you wouldn’t talk to me and I didn’t know where you were in your head. But, after thinking about everything, perhaps you were angry because I didn’t call you when it happened. I’m really sorry I didn’t. I had hit my head and wasn’t thinking straight, but I should have called you first.”
Mark took a deep breath before speaking, “I was angry because I’ve heard stories about the work the motor pool has done on cars in similar situations.”
He paused and ran his hand through his hair, “To be honest, I hate it when you get angry with me. Lately, I’ve been getting angry just thinking about talking to you. When I’m angry, I can’t think of anything to say. I’m beginning to feel myself shut down again right now.”
Diane reached out and took his hand. “It’s okay. Take a few deep breathes,” she said with a lower, softer tone in her voice. She also took several deep breathes before continuing. “I really wish I had called you first. How is the car?”
“Actually, they did a good job. I’m surprised,” he paused. “I knew you were going to be angry so I planned everything I was going to say. But, you’re not angry so I have to be honest. I was angry because I really wanted to sue the university. I’ve been thinking about all the money we’d get then I could quit my stupid job.”
“Hmmm,” Diane paused for a moment. “What I really hear is that it has nothing to do with the car or the university. I hear you saying you’re really tired of your job and you want to quit. Am I correct?”
Mark nodded, “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Thank you for putting up with that job while I was getting settled in my new job. In fact, I brought home some job notices for you the other day. If you got a job at the university you could finish your degree like I know you’ve wanted to. You’d have your job, and the education wouldn’t cost us anything.”
Diane pulled the notices out of her purse and handed them to Mark.
“I’m so sorry for letting my emotions overwhelm me to the place I can’t think,” Mark said. “I will work at telling you what’s on my mind instead of stewing on things and letting them make me angry and shut down. Thank you.”
Focusing on and affirming the positive and showing empathy makes a great difference.