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If you know someone who is a good listener they will likely have many friends. People like to be around others that listen to them. In a world of change and pressure, it takes real effort to take time to listen to others. Empathetic Listening is a method of listening that increasing your ability to understand other people. This type of listening emphasizes the other person’s point of view. 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. Putting aside your own needs to listen to another’s, and enter into another’s thoughts and feelings requires a certain degree of vulnerability. But this risk is worth it. You will never be able to see the world as others do until you learn the skills needed for empathetic listening.

There a few different techniques for developing empathetic listening. We will cover the following five techniques in this blog post:

1. Develop good listening habits
2. Listen to understand
3. Practice the four stages of empathetic listening
4. Avoid misunderstandings
5. Follow the rules of empathetic listening

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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

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Listen to understand. 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.

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Avoid Misunderstandings. 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.

We’ve all 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.

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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.

Remember to practice these rules of empathetic listening the next time you have an important conversation. When you regularly practice empathetic listening, you’ll be sure to notice an improvement in your relationships with others.

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