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6 Empathic Listening Tips for Building Work Connections

May 12, 2021
4 Min Read
Photo by
Rafael Gomes

Key takeaways

  • Empathic listening is establishing an emotional connection with the speaker and pinpointing similar experiences with one another.
  • There's no difference between empathic and empathetic.
  • Empathic listening exercises include giving your undivided attention, sitting in silence, displaying positive body language, and more.
  • See more stories on Matter's blog.

What is empathic listening?

Empathic listening is the practice of being fully attentive and responsive to the speaker's thoughts and feelings during a conversation. The main component of empathic listening is establishing an emotional connection with the other person. Pinpoint similar experiences and sharing them allows the speaker to feel more comfortable to open up and the speaker to give rich and empathetic responses.

In a nutshell, empathic listening means genuinely listening to the speaker. While this type of listening seems similar to appreciative listening, the key distinction is that the goal of empathic listening is to grasp the situation as the speaker feels it. It’s the ability to listen with the sincere intention of understanding your peer's values, opinions, and ideas

Empathic or empathetic?

According to Grammarly, the words empathetic and empathic mean the same thing. Each word roots from empathy but has different spellings. Empathic is the older word and was first introduced in 1909. Compared to empathetic, which was recorded in 1932. Long story short, they're interchangeable.

Fun fact: Empathic is commonly cited in scientific writing, while empathetic is used more in conversations and casual literature.

Empathic listening exercises for your team

You don't have to be a natural-born empath to develop these skills. You can still build your empathic listening skills as long as you’re willing to:

  • Push judgment aside. We can admit that it's not easy cracking your pre-conceived notions to focus on the speaker's perspective. It's difficult, we get it. But, understanding the values, emotions, and outlook of the other person helps you to help them. By no means does that mean agreeing with everything the speaker says, but showing them you care.
  • Restate and paraphrase. When it's your turn to speak, refer to the person’s words when responding. It's important to not insert your own opinions or thoughts but to build off the speaker's points. There’s no script when it comes to empathic listening. All you can do is respond with respect, neutrality, and no judgment.
  • Train your brain to focus. We all know the feeling of pouring out our hearts to someone all to notice that they aren't even paying attention. Put your phone on DND mode, mute your Slack, turn off the TV — you get where we're going. Just remove all those distractions. When you're empathically listening, give the speaker your full attention so they feel respected and safe to share.
  • Balance feelings and facts. While you're listening, be aware that sometimes everything the speaker says isn't always factual. Many times, they're thoughts and opinions. Remember, even if you don't necessarily agree with the speaker's opinions or feelings, part of empathic listening is being open-minded and soaking everything in.
  • Promote positive body language. When it comes to empathic listening, your body language speaks volumes. Your eye contact, posture, and gestures can either allow the speaker to open up more or create a barrier that makes them shut down. And when that happens, this can be difficult for you to listen empathically.
  • Sit in silence. We cannot emphasize this more, you don't always need to fill in silence. Sometimes all the speaker wants is the presence of the other person and a space to feel heard. Forcing to speak during quieter moments can sometimes illicit empty responses. Be comfortable with just lending an ear.
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