Empathic Listening: 9 Simple Ways to Be More Empathetic in Conversations
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Have you ever noticed how some people make you feel validated and understood without saying a single word?
What is it about them that makes it so easy for you to ‘open up’ and share your struggles?
Why are they the first person you go to whenever you feel the need to unburden your soul?
The answer is simple – empathic listening.
That’s what makes them the ideal conversation partners. It’s the reason why everyone else seems to gravitate around them. It’s why they get along well with everyone in the office and can click almost instantly with every person they meet.
In case you didn’t know, empathic listening is an ability which means it can be learned through practice and repetition.
And that’s precisely what you’re going to get out of this article.
Empathy: The Cornerstone of Authentic Human Interactions
In a world where time is a scarce resource, and everyone seems to be running after something, it has become increasingly difficult for many of us to exercise patience and listen to others, before we express our own opinions and desires.
We expect others to understand us without ever putting ourselves in their shoes. We want others to resonate with our views without giving them a chance to voice their opinions. And even if they do express their opinions or offer some constructive criticism, we rarely return the favor.
As a result, our day-to-day interactions can become nothing more than a ‘cold’ exchange of replies; no ‘real’ connection, no empathy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you are willing to listen instead of talk, understand instead of criticize, and comfort instead of judge, you can quickly turn a conversation into an authentic human interaction.
Whether you’re talking to your spouse, friend, boss, coworker, neighbor or even the barista who works at your favorite coffee shop, empathic listening can significantly improve the quality of your interaction.
Contrary to popular belief, it was collaboration, not competition, that helped humankind survive, thrive, and reach the level of socio-economic development we see today.
And one of the keys to an authentic and fruitful collaboration is empathic listening.
What Is Empathic Listening?
In a nutshell, empathic listening means to hear your conversation partner authentically. It’s the ability to listen with the sincere intention of understanding other people’s values, opinions, and ideas.
Empathic listening allows you to get ‘in tune with their frequency’ and resonate on an emotional level. It means to get in touch with their needs and make them feel heard.
Empathic listening opens a window to their inner universe and creates a safe space where they can share anything without having to worry about criticism or bad remarks.
When empathy is the bridge that brings two people together, words become less important and what matters most is the connection between them.
But being empathetic does not mean you have to agree with everything and does not imply any obligation on your part. It only involves an effort to understand other people’s perspective; ‘to walk a mile in their shoes’ so to speak.
Sadly, not all people are natural born empaths; not everyone finds it easy to identify, process, and resonate with other people’s emotions. However, we can develop and sharpen this skill through patience and exercise. Those of us who are somewhat disconnected from our own feelings will find it a bit difficult, but not impossible to learn to improve empathy.
Just as any other ability, empathic listening can be acquired, as long as you’re motivated and willing to take it step by step and practice consistently.
How Does Empathic Listening Relate to Happiness?
Some of you may be wondering how exactly does listening to others and trying to resonate emotionally with them contribute to our well-being. What does empathic listening have to do with happiness?
First of all, empathetic ears are hard to come by these days. Many people are too self-involved to care about what others have to say. But given that healthy social interactions are critical to our growth, knowing how empathize is one of the ingredients of a happy and fulfilling life.
Second, research suggests that when you listen in an empathic manner, people are satisfied with the conversation and you instantly become more socially attractive. 
And since we’re all social creatures by nature, being able to navigate social situations successfully will indirectly contribute to our overall sense of happiness and well-being.
Finally, given that empathic listeners are social magnets, they often benefit from exciting opportunities that contribute to their personal and professional growth.
Overall, empathic listening can greatly contribute to our overall sense of happiness and well-being.Perhaps this is the secret to lasting joy and an overall fulfilling life.
Empathic Listening for Couples
Empathic communication is an essential component of any successful and lasting relationship. The ability to be empathetic towards your loved one has significant effects on the overall level of satisfaction you and your partner experience in your relationship.
As you can imagine, knowing how to listen with an open mind - without interruptions, criticism, and unwanted advice – is a ‘must’ in any healthy and functional couple.
Too often, people who love each other end up splitting because of communication issues. Whether it manifests as stonewalling, criticism, or contempt, lack of empathy can slowly turn two people into two strangers who resent each other.
And that’s because one of our fundamental needs is to be heard and understood. When this does not happen, you begin to feel lonely and abandoned. You suffer and eventually distance yourself, even from a person you loved more than you could ever imagine.
Experts suggest empathic listening paves the way for affectionate communication, a crucial element for any healthy couple. 
When empathic listening becomes a habit that characterizes your relationship, you can easily resonate with your partner’s struggles and understand why he/she might be feeling that way. And this gives you the chance to find solutions and fix the ‘cracks’ that could compromise your relationship.
All and all, empathic listening builds strong relationships, fosters effective communications, and cultivates trust between life partners.
Empathic Listening at Work
In a way, we could argue that empathic listening is a 21st-century skill.
This means we not only use it to achieve personal growth by cultivating a thriving social life and building lasting romantic relationships, but also to advance in our career by investing in fruitful partnerships.
From leadership and business to sales and negotiation, empathy seems to be one of those variables that can tip the scale in your favor, overcome ‘formal’ barriers, and appeal to people’s ‘soft’ side.
In fact, empathic listening plays such an important role in activities like sales that researchers have even begun developing tools to measure it. One example is the active empathic listening (AEL) scale which evaluates three dimensions: sensing, processing, and responding. 
More specifically, this scale assesses how well the person can zero-in on emotions, process them, and come up with an appropriate answer.
If you wish to become a better boss, leader, coworker or even employee, empathic listening should be among your ‘sharpest’ skills. Just because you talk to your boss, client, business partner, or coworker doesn’t mean you should keep the conversation at a formal level. Appeal to their emotions, make them feel understood, and you will be on the right path towards a productive partnership.
In time, empathic listening can set the stage for amazing business opportunities which directly contribute to a happy and prosperous life.
How to Practice Empathic Listening
Since developing empathic listening is all about practice, let’s focus on a brief example that will show you how proper empathic communication should look like.
Ann: So, what’s new in your life?
Mike: Hmm, nothing much.
Ann: You seem a bit off. Is everything ok? (She detects a negative emotional vibe and uses a question to dig deeper)
Mike: Just some minor problems with Mary. Nothing important.
Ann: You want to talk about it? I’m here for you. Maybe I can help you out in some way. (She makes herself available and lets him know he can rely on her)
Mike: I don’t know… things haven’t good between us lately.
Ann: I’m sorry to hear that. I don’t want to be too nosy, but did something happen between you two? (She asks open-ended questions but without being intrusive)
Mike: Well… I don’t know if I should burden you with my personal problems.
Ann: It’s ok. Don’t worry. If you feel like sharing, I’m here for you (She creates a safe space)
Mike: Hmm… things kind of went south about a month ago when I noticed she was texting with a guy from work. Although she told me there’s nothing between them and I should stop making a big deal out of it, I can’t help but think she might be having an affair with this guy.
Ann: So, because she’s texting with this guy from work, you’re worried it might be more between them? (She paraphrases to make sure she got the message right and make him feel understood)
Mike: Yes. And I know it sounds crazy, but I just can’t get this idea out of my head. God, I’m such a mess! I love her so much, but I’m afraid I’m going to lose her because of my stupid jealousy.
Ann: Look, Mike, I know you love Mary, and I know you don’t want to lose her. Maybe that’s why you’re acting so jealous. (She paraphrases his message, empathizes with him)
Ann: But are there any other reasons you think she might be cheating on you? (She asks open-ended questions to understand the situation further)
Mike: Well… no. I don’t think so. Maybe this whole cheating thing is just in my head.
Ann: Want some advice? (She asks before giving advice)
Ann: Talk to your girl. Tell her what you told me. Tell her that you’re acting this way because you love her and don’t want to lose her. (She encourages him to have a conversation with his girlfriend and clarify the situation)
Mike: What if she doesn’t understand? What if she thinks I’m crazy?
Ann: Then maybe you two could see a couple’s counselor. Who knows? It might be the solution you need to fix this issue. (She offers an alternative solution)
Mike: I guess that could be an option… Thanks Ann, it was constructive talking to you.
Ann: My pleasure! And thanks for placing your trust in me. If you ever need an empathetic ear, I’m here for you. (She validates his trust and extends her support)
9 Strategies to Develop Empathic Listening
1. It’s not about you
Whenever you’re talking to someone and wish to lend an empathetic ear, the first thing you need to understand is that it’s not about you.
That’s the secret to authentic empathic listening – placing your conversation partner above your needs.
And it can be quite hard to put aside personal opinions and make it all about him/her. After all, you’re not his/her therapist.
So, before you decide to be there for someone, make sure you’re available emotionally. Otherwise, there’s no point in encouraging him/her to share a personal issue for which you’re not ready to provide understanding and support.
2. Put away your phone
Too often we find ourselves checking our phone or answering a text message while the other person may be pouring their heart out.
This is one of those unpleasant habits that many of us have adopted as a result of living in the digital era. We get so hooked on social media that we sometimes end up losing sight of the person who’s right there in front of us.
And it’s impossible to establish an emotional bond when you’re regularly checking your phone, and all you can say is “Aha” or “I understand.”
So, whenever you wish to offer empathy and create an authentic connection, put your phone away and ask the other person to do the same.
3. Be an active listener
In a way empathic listening and active listening are synonymous.
Being an active listener means being present in the conversation. It means ignoring any distractions and focusing exclusively on the person in front of you.
Active listeners live in the ‘here and now.’ They immerse themselves into the other person’s universe and seek to gain a better understanding of the topic in discussion.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to listen and nod in silence. A conversation is a two-way street where both partners exchange ideas, impressions, and seek to resonate with one another emotionally.
In short, active listening is about presence and depth.
4. Refrain from criticism
As you can probably imagine, empathic listening implies a high degree of emotional intelligence.
When someone shares a story or event that holds significant importance to him/her, it would be ideal to refrain from evaluations, criticism, or negative feedback.
There are times when other people’s problems may seem trivial, ridiculous, or even infuriating. But once again, it’s not about you, it about them.
Remember, your goal is to understand and provide emotional support. Any form of criticism will only create tension and make it difficult for you to ‘forge’ authentic connections.
Listen, understand, and empathize.
5. Adjust your body language
As you probably know, body language is of paramount importance for authentic social interactions.
When it comes to empathic listening, your body can help you create the kind of interaction that makes room for understanding and empathy.
Your posture and gestures can either bring people closer or create a barrier that makes it difficult for you to listen actively and empathically.
If you want to make people feel safe and welcome, make sure to adopt a relaxed posture with open arms and constant eye contact. You can even go for a friendly pat on the shoulder or even a warm hug.
6. Paraphrase your conversation partner
Paraphrasing is among the most effective strategies for empathic listening.
Letting your conversation partner know that you understand his perspective creates an ideal climate for sharing emotions.
In fact, research suggests paraphrasing – along with clarifying, questioning, and remembering details – are the critical elements of empathic listening.  Furthermore, this creates a safe space where people can share and engage in self-exploration.
Paraphrasing your conversation partner is relatively easy. All you need to do is listen to what your partner has to say and rephrase his/her message.
7. Ask open-ended questions
If you want your conversation partner to share, you need to ‘fuel’ the conversation by asking open-ended questions.
Sometimes, people don’t ‘open up’ that easily. Not everyone will be willing to talk to you openly, especially when it comes to personal problems.
And that’s why you need to give him/her a push by using questions that create opportunities for sharing.
Although smart questions can enrich a conversation, make sure you’re not intrusive. You’re supposed to have a comfortable talk, not an interview.
If you notice that your partner doesn’t feel comfortable, refrain from asking questions and let him/her dictate the flow of the conversation.
8. Stop giving unsolicited advice
When you’re looking to establish an emotional connection with someone, the worst thing you can do is offer unsolicited advice.
Nothing ‘kills’ the vibe of a good conversation more than telling the other person what he/she should do.
Remember that empathic listening is mostly about understanding and ‘connectedness.’ Sometimes, all it takes to establish an emotional connection is active listening.
If, however, you think you have a good piece of advice to offer, ask your conversation partner if he/she is interested in hearing it.
9. Don’t ‘fill up’ the silence
Many of us tend to feel awkward during the occasional moments of silence that are specific to any conversation.
But silence can be a powerful tool in establishing an authentic connection is you know how to use it.
You can use silence to allow the other person to take charge of the conversation or give him/her enough time to process your input and come up with an answer.
And let’s not forget that a conversation doesn’t rely solely on a constant exchange of words. There’s also your body language which through which you can express empathy and build an authentic connection.
In a Nutshell…
All and all, empathic listening represents the foundation of effective communication and one of the secrets to lasting relationships.
When you’re willing to put aside your personal views and seek to empathize with others, people will gravitate around you. That, in turn, will result in authentic relationships and fruitful business partnerships.
Even if you’re not a natural born empath, you can still develop this skill as long as you’re willing to:
- Make the conversation about the person in front of you
- Avoid distractions
- Listen actively and refrain from criticism or advice-giving
- Paraphrase and ask open-ended questions
- Adjust your body language
- Use silence to your advantage.
Listen empathically and others will be naturally drawn to your social circle.
Related Articles & Research
 H. Weger, E. Minei, G. Bell Castle and M. C. Robinson, "The Relative Effectiveness of Active Listening in Initial Interactions," International Journal of Listening, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 13-31, 2014.
 K. Floyd, "Empathic Listening as an Expression of Interpersonal Affection," International Journal of Listening, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 1-12, 2014.
 T. Drollinger, L. B. Comer and P. T. Warrington, "Development and validation of the active empathetic listening scale," Psychology & Marketing, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 161-180, 2005.
 S. Myers, "Empathic Listening: Reports on the Experience of being Heard," Journal of Humanistic Psychology, vol. 40, no. 2, 2000.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Alexander Draghici is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, CBT practitioner and co-founder at psycheguide.com. His work focuses mainly on strategies designed to help people manage and prevent two of the most common mental issues – anxiety and depression.