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Are You Really Listening?

How good are you at listening? Probably not as good as you would like to think you are. Even the most skilled listeners among us get caught up with their own lives and concerns and forget to listen with empathy. So here is a reminder and a refresher on how to listen with empathy. The more you consciously practise this, the more your listening, communication, and consequently your relationships (work and personal) will improve.

So what are the key benefits of empathetic listening?

    It builds rapport through increased trust and respectThe better rapport leads to greater sharing of emotions (you get to find out how people really feel)There is a reduced chance of tension between you and the speakerMore information will be shared than in a low-rapport conversationHigher levels of rapport facilitate collaborative problem solving


So empathetic listening is important. Here are five tips that will help you improve your empathetic communication skills and thus your relationships and productivity.

    Devote your undivided attention to the speaker. This is key to acknowledging and respecting the speaker. If it is an important conversation, you do not want to ruin it by multi-tasking, or thinking about all the other things you have to tackle that day. AND, you don’t know how important a conversation is unless you are actively listening because you will miss the clues that tell you if you aren’t actively listening. So make sure this is your default listening style as simple, shallow conversations can easily and quickly become deeper and more meaningful.Suspend your judgement. You have a whole series of life experiences, assumptions, and social programming though which you filter information. The speaker will have their own experiences, assumptions, and social programming through which they experience the world. Neither is correct. Neither is true. Seek first to understand their view. If you don’t, things will not end well.Pay attention to the silent communication and to the tone of the voice. That could be the emotion that is communicated in the voice. It could be the facial expressions and communicate an additional, separate, or even contradictory message to the words. Or it could be the words that are not said—often the words we choose not to use are just as important as those we do. As for tone, it’s useful to remember the often used sentence “I never said she stole my money”. If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, say the sentence in your head (or aloud if you can) and place the emphasis on a different word each time. One sentence, seven different meanings.Remember the old adage “we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak”. I.e., don’t feel the need to respond lots. Silence will often give the speaker a chance to share more information, and it allows you the chance to think through what they’ve said before you respond. Minimise your verbal feedback while providing encouragement and verbal cues for them to ‘go on’ and ‘tell you more’.Check your understanding! This is vital and is the one factor often ignored even by those who are good communicators. Remember those filters I mentioned in point 2? They are important here as well. What you have heard may not be what the speaker said. So check. Have you understood not just the information, but the emotion too? Different cultures and different individuals within cultures will communicate with different levels of directness. “It’s a bit warm today” could be a simple statement of opinion, or it could be a coded message where the speaker is indirectly (and politely) requesting the listener, who is closer to the climate control, to adjust the temperature accordingly. “Urgh, work was brutal today” could mean the speaker was super busy, it could mean that they had frustrating challenges, it could mean that they didn’t sleep well the night before and were tired the whole day, or it could mean a whole number of different things. So do your due diligence and check that your interpretation of communication is correct.


So with that new or refreshed kowledge, go forth and practise your listening. Notice how your conversations and relationships improve. Just remember, you need to consciously maintain the skill so that you don't slip into old habits.


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