FranklinCovey Blog

Empathic Listening Tips

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 | 7 Habits | 9 Comments

Being understood by others is the greatest need of all. – Stephen R. Covey

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey describes Empathic Listening as reflecting what a person feels and says in your own words to their satisfaction so they feel listened to and understood.  Empathic Listening is  not listening to advise, counsel, replay, refute, solve, fix, change, judge, agree, disagree, question, analyze, or figure out. Whether you are familiar with The 7 Habits and are looking for a refresher or new to them all together, here are a few tips to remember when using Empathic Listening.

It is best to use Empathic listening when:

  • Emotion if high.
  • The other person does not feel understood.
  • You do not understand the other person.
  • Trust is low in the relationship.

Here are a few Empathic Listening starters, these should help you get started using Empathic Listening.

  • So, if I am understanding you correctly you are saying…
  • What I’m hearing is…
  • You seem…
  • You must have felt…
  • You feel…about…

What tips have you learned as you have used Empathic Listening in your life at home or at work? We would love to hear from you.

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9 Comments to Empathic Listening Tips

Louise Hedges
October 30, 2009

Give 100% attention, demonstrate you are processing what they are saying through your body language. Thoughtful silence after they finish, wait for that to finish before responding.

Susan Leigh Babcock
October 30, 2009

One suggestion I might make is to use the sample phrases as your mental/emotional “posture” toward the other person. If you haven’t mastered or integrated the “100% attention” eloquently advocated above by Louise, then simply starting sentences with these phrases can come across as patronizing or insincere. There is no substitute for real empathy, and that can be in short supply when, as Stephen says, emotion is high.

October 31, 2009

Acting school may be required. Unfortunately, the face and the eyes says it all for some people…

Peter Komrakov
November 3, 2009

This Empathic Listening technique is AMAZING. It really works.

November 5, 2009

Nice, provocative post,
Very interesting Blog. Hope it will always be alive!

David Harper
November 6, 2009

Two recent thoughts on Empathic Listening. Back in May 2009 I had the incredible opportunity to take the 3 day 7 Habits course thru my work. During the course it was pretty obvious that my listening skills needed improvement. So as our company, my accountability partner and I have been working thru the 7 habits since the course I have noticed 2 things happening related to listening.

The first one relates to “Leaning in”, “Turning towards” the person who is talking. I find this body language provides a signal to the other persom that I am genuinely intrested and also it is a signal to me to focus, and some of the empathic phases come to my mind with the movement. I guess this is the opposite of pushing back from the table or moving back from the person.

The second area is we started a monthly 7 Habits lunch meeting, where all are invited to come and talk about the 7 habits journey. We had 34 poeple trained and this week we had 7 people out. For me this information session has provided yet another opporutunity to listen and get to know others. The session has received good feedback and the group jokingly sets a rule for 10 push up for those who are late !!!! As the organizer and faciliitator I have to make very conscious choices to go with the flow of the conversation and not try to drive out any overly solid agendas. This week I heard some very cool ideas as we discussed what was a fairly simple conversation topic of “Lost Habits”. This were good things people used to do and stopped doing. We discussed the the habit, why it stopped and what might spark the person to start again. Even from just 7 people there were ideas from all 4 dimensions, physical, emotionsl, mental and spiritual.

And first time in a long time, my wife of 18 years and I got out for a 45 mintue coffee avway from the Q1 nature of the house and our 2 children, and a third cousin visiting for the weekend. There was some listening going on !!!!

Ron Krumpos
March 9, 2010

Art of listening

While student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I became friends with Carl Rogers, who was respected as one of the leading psychotherapists of his time. He taught me much about the art of listening.

Dr. Rogers said that when we listen, and people know we are listening, it shows we truly care about them. In turn, they will respond by caring about you. It opens communication and also opens hearts. When we accept them as a person, unconditionally, they will be more kind to you.

We should listen without preconceptions, without anticipation and without judgement if we want others to portray what they truly feel. We listen with all our senses, not just to the words which are said. Some people cannot fully express themselves while speaking, so we must try to see them as they see themselves. We should watch for non-verbal clues as to what they really mean: facial expressions, body movements, etc.

While we should show positive regard for the other person, we should also demonstrate our own positive self-regard. We do not react to their negative comments, verbally or physically, even when we disagree with them. When they do ask for our opinion, however, we should respond with our true thoughts and in specifics rather than generalities. We offer our own perspective as other options rather than as contradictions.

Listening might seem quite passive as opposed to speaking. It is actually very active. To paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, “I learn while listening. When I talk I don’t learn too much.” If you think talking helps to spread your own wisdom, you are not really wise.

March 17, 2010

listening is the real power.

Thank you Ron, David, Louise and Susan for your contribution of comments!

Joseph Potterton
July 14, 2010

Empathic Listening has been a survival tool for Security and Law Enforcement Officers everywhere. The people that know and understand how to effectively utilize this tool are able to diffuse and control almost any situation.

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