This articles address the importance of empathic listening in the workplace and provides skill development techniques.
To listen empathically Is to be present, with patience, acceptance, non-judgement, kindness and care.
How can we effectively support and help someone in the workplace who is suffering, when we may not know what to say or have any relevant advice or experience to offer?
When we know how to listen empathically, we do not necessarily need to have the answers, or give advice, rather, we help and support by being present, letting the person know that we care, they are heard and accepted. This alone can be immensely healing for people and provide huge relief.
Empathic listening skills allow anyone to step into the speaker’s story, to really hear and understand them, to sense what they may be feeling, and to be with them, in the present, with their pain, suffering, frustration or difficulty, without judgement or criticism, holding a space of psychological safety, acceptance and support.
Stephen R. Covey (2020, p. 277), author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, summarizes the heart of empathic listening: “Seek first to understand.” Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist, described empathic listening as “entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it” (Rogers, 1980, p. 142).
When we practice Empathic listening, we allow the other person to dominate the discussion, attentive to what is being said, mindful not to interrupt, and with sensitivity to the feelings and emotions that are being expressed. When we are listening empathically, we are letting the other person know that:
"I want to understand you and how you feel, I am interested in what you are saying, I am not judging you, and I want to help you to find a resolution’
The impact empathic listening has on the speaker is to let them feel acknowledged, valued, accepted and understood, which can help foster their self-esteem, reduce stress and tension, and increase trust and cooperation.
The Essence of Empathic Listening
Co-worker: “Stephen always says he will meet the deadline, but I am always chasing him, and never know where he is at or how long he will take to get things done’
Listener: “It sounds like you’re frustrated with Stephen and work right now?”
Here, the listener doesn’t negate or judge the speaker, rather, they let the speaker know they heard what was said and captured the emotion, while the open nature of the question invites them to elaborate and open up further.
What to Avoid
Phrases you can use when listening empathically
Before asking questions, it is wise to be sensitive to the other persons disposition and have a deep awareness of the context. Not all questions are appropriate in every situation, and in some context may trigger issues that they are not ready to face, or that are not appropriate to face in the current situation, such as deep psychological traumas in a work space or when there is little time to really hear and be present with a person.
The following examples can help the listener open up and clarify what is being said:
When you want the other person to know you are there for them, you can ask or say:
Develop your empathic listening skills: Would you and your team members like to practice empathic listening with a facilitator to feedback on your communication style and support your skill development? Please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Location: Groups of 2/3 people available online. Small group sessions, in-person in Sotogrande, Cadiz, and Ocean Village, Gibraltar.
Antonia Behan - Coaching Psychologist - BSc MSc MBPsS MICF PCC
0034 620 741 361
Oficina 10, Sotovilla 2, Pueblo Nuevo de Guadiaro, 11311, San Roque, Cadiz, Spain.
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