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supervisor speaking to employee

In our last article, we discussed the value of empathetic listening. We suggested that it is key to building trust and then relationships. If your goal is to listen to understand, as opposed to listening to respond, these five empathetic listening techniques will help.

5 Empathetic Listening Techniques to Practice

  1. Focus on the speaker: This means giving your complete attention. Do not become distracted by others walking by, the phone ringing, or an incoming text. Give the speaker your undivided attention.
  2. Practice whole body listening: This means paying attention to facial reactions, as well as body language. Studies suggest that 93% of all communication is nonverbal. 55% is body language, and the other 38% is the tone of voice. People speak with their eyes, their smiles and frowns, and their hands. Even body positions give clues about the emotions accompanying the words you hear.
  3. Do not be judgmental: While this is great advice for everyday life, it is especially important in practicing empathetic listening. Usually, we do not know all of the background information, and we definitely have not walked in the other person’s shoes. Judgment is a relationship killer.
  4. Listen for keywords or phrases: Rarely do people tell the story of where their real pain comes from. It is usually much deeper than the surface conversation. People will provide clues in their stories if we listen to them.
  5. Ask clarifying questions: Don’t make statements in the form of questions. “Have you considered…?” is a statement in the form of a question, not a clarifying question. Try something like, “How did that make you feel?” or “Tell me more about it…” or “Describe what that means to you.” These prompts will keep the conversation moving forward, and suggest to the speaker that you are interested in them.

Practicing these five empathetic listening techniques will go a long way in building trust and establishing better relationships.

Different Levels of Listening

In future articles, we plan on diving deeper into empathetic listening skills.

We will cover active listening, which includes responding to the speaker to ensure you are understanding their meaning; whole body listening, which we summarized above; and critical listening, which is used to analyze and evaluate.

Listening is a skill we feel as though we understand; however, in reality, very few of us listen well. This is a skill that can, and should, be improved upon!