two friends

Find a person who is a good listener, and they will likely have many friends— people want to be around a good listener. To be a better listener, we must take time for others. In a world of change and pressure, it takes a real effort to take time to listen to others. Listening is an activity used daily by all people and is important to the success of every person. Good listening can:

  • Help solve problems (like bullying)
  • Set good examples for communication
  • Build trust and win respect
  • Improve work
  • Build better relationships
  • Reduce mistakes
  • Save time

An improvement to listening is empathetic listening. Empathetic listening is a type of listening that goes further than ordinary listening. This type of listening uses another person’s point of view to see the world from that viewpoint. It provides a higher level of understanding of how others feel.

Empathetic listening takes effort. It also involves some risk. The risk comes from a chance of being hurt. We put aside our own needs to listen to another’s needs and to enter into another’s thoughts and feelings. We will never be able to see the world as others do until we learn the skills needed for empathetic listening. In this post we review some of the topics that will enable you to teach empathetic listening to your student population. These techniques will enable you to fight bullying at its source and make your bullying prevention efforts successful.

Develop Good Listening Habits

To become an empathetic listener, you first must develop good listening habits. Listening is such a common activity that we sometimes forget how important it is. For example, I’m sure you can think of a time when you thought you were listening, but as soon as the person finished talking to you realized you had no idea what they said. Start by mastering these simple good listening habits and you will be one step closer to becoming an empathetic listener:

1. Let the person speak without interrupting or breaking in
2. Don’t say, “I know how you feel”
3. Show your interest in what’s being said
4. Try to understand what the person is saying
5. Try not to think about what you’re going to say while the person is still talking
6. Don’t judge what the person is saying
7. Keep an open mind

Listen to Understand

Man listening

Most of us do not listen to understand, we listen only enough to reply with our own thoughts and opinions. While the person is talking, we are thinking about what we are going to say next. This is dangerous because it causes us to respond based on our own thoughts and feelings. When you listen to understand, you pay attention to the thoughts and feelings of the person speaking.

Empathetic listening gives us the tools to see a problem, understand the effect it is having, and find a solution. In order to help someone, we must first understand the problem from his or her point of view. As Stephen Covey puts it, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” When we set aside our own thoughts and opinions, we begin to learn what others are thinking and feeling. Then, and only then, can we begin to help someone in need.

Practice the Four Stages of Empathetic Listening

Alright, so we know that empathetic listening requires good listening habits and the ability to understand other people. But what is empathetic listening, really? Empathetic listening can be broken down into four stages, or steps.

Stage 1: Copy what is being said. Simply repeat what you hear in order to get further understanding. Repeat it exactly as you think you heard it.
Stage 2: Say what you hear. Repeat the words that were said without adding anything new.
Stage 3: Reflect on the feeling. Try to understand the feeling expressed in what was said, going beyond what you think you heard.
Stage 4: Restate what was said and think about the feeling. This combines stages 2 and 3 in order to understand the message.

Avoid Misunderstandings

making her point

While empathetic listening takes time and work, it does not take nearly as much time and effort as it does to correct a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding happens when a person fails to understand correctly the meaning or intent of another person’s words or actions. Or, more simply put, the message meant to be sent is different from the message received.

Everyone has been involved in misunderstandings. Maybe you thought you heard someone say one thing, but they actually meant something else. The trouble with a misunderstanding is that you can’t begin to correct it until you realize that there has been a misunderstanding. Empathetic listening can help prevent or keep misunderstandings from happening. The better you listen and the harder you work to understand what others are thinking and feeling, the less likely you are to misunderstand them.

Follow the Rules of Empathetic Listening

One of the most important jobs of a friend is to be a good listener. Most people are more interested in talking than they are in listening. Instead of really listening to what the other person is saying, we just wait for your turn to speak.

Luckily, listening is a learned skill. If you don’t practice empathetic listening already, it’s not too late to start. Many people worry that they won’t know what to say after they listen. Try not to worry about that, just listen and let others talk. To get you started, try following these rules of empathetic listening:

1. Pay attention to the feelings that others express—verbally and nonverbally. Try to understand
the message behind the words and actions.
2. Don’t put your own feelings in place of another’s. Put aside your own needs and ideas long enough to listen to the other person’s point of view.
3. Communicate in a more responsive way. Respond or give answers to the messages you receive to show you understand them.
4. Do not interrupt or break in. Let speakers finish what they are saying before you talk.
5. Ask questions for more information. If you still don’t understand, ask questions until you do understand.

We hope you found this post on empathetic listening useful. Hopefully you can find ways to integrate the techniques to empathetic listening into your bullying prevention efforts. If you would like to see how our Bullying Prevention program and assess and teach bullying prevention to you students click the free trial link below.