Posted by: painreliefcoach | March 25, 2008

Ten Ways to Show Empathy While Listening

We all want to be listened to, to be heard.  When we are hurting we want others to understand and be there for us.  Unfortunately, many people do not know how to be empathetic or compassionate.  They may mean well and don’t show it.  Or what seems like a big issue to you does not seem that important to them or they grow tired of it over time. The more empathy you can give to others, the more likely you will receive it when needed.  This is not a guarantee.  Some people are givers and some are takers.  It’s best to be a balance of both.  If people are taking too much from you set boundaries.  If you aren’t receiving enough support, instead of expecting it from people who aren’t giving it, seek out others.  Better yet, learn to give yourself all of the empathy, compassion and validation that you need when you need it.

It’s important to have a healthy understanding of how to listen, so you can be a good listener yourself.  The first step to being a good listener is to stop talking and listen.  Be fully present to what the person is saying. Don’t anticipate what they will say next. Don’t judge what the person is feeling.  Sure, you may disagree with their words, but you can look for the feelings underlying the words.  Don’t assume what they are feeling, ask them.  Keep clarifying all the way through the conversation.  You can paraphrase back what they are saying, “you feel angry because you don’t get your child support check on time.” You can also mirror back exactly what they said, “your stomach hurts.”  This may seem artificial, but practice it and it will soon feel more natural.  The response you get from other people will be amazing.  People will respond more positively to you because they feel your sincerity and compassion.  Misunderstandings are clarified without being blown out of proportion.  Self-understanding is promoted for the person you are listening to as well as increasing  insight into your self. 

Allow vacuums of silence in the conversation.  If it’s an emotional moment, the person may be gathering their thoughts and will continue to talk.  If it’s a disagreement, the other person may change their mind without feeling pressured by your words, but will listen to their own inner thoughts.  What may seem like a long silence may only be a few minutes.  We are so used to constant noise and busyness, silence often feels awkward.  Don’t rush to fill it.  Sometimes amazing thoughts, insights and connections occur because a period of silence is allowed.

In Dale Carnegie’s Golden Book, he promotes “become genuinely interested in other people.  Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.  Encourage others to talk about themselves.”  A good way to engage others in conversation is to ask an open-ended question about family, hometown, hobbies, anything.  If you find a similarity with the person that will help to better establish the relationship.  For example you loved their hometown during a recent family vacation to that area.

No matter how traumatic your current problems are you still need to listen to other people.  It doesn’t matter if what they are saying seems minor compared to what you are going through.  To them it is of some importance or they wouldn’t mention it.  If all you do is dominate conversations about your situation, people will start to avoid you. It’s easy to become isolated during challenging times.  Be a good listener to stay engaged with life.

Other tips for being a good listener, include:

  1. Give the person your full attention.  Maintain eye contact.  Do not fidget or attempt to multi-task.  You cannot really hear what the person is feeling if you are trying to fix something that also commands your attention.  Listening is important.  If the person is worth talking to they are worth listening to.
  2. If you can’t give the person your full attention, tell them.  “You caught me at a bad time, I need to take care of this now.  Is it something that can wait until lunch?”
  3. You are not obligated to listen to everyone who wants you to.  Some people are takers.  They want you to listen to them, but don’t return the favor.  This may feel okay or it may not.  It may be all right for a while and then you grow tired of it.  You always have the right to not listen.  Your time is of value to you.  You don’t have to give it away if you don’t want to. 
  4. Ask questions to open up the conversation or show interest in the other person.  Do not ask questions to control the discussion.
  5. It’s okay to share a similarity at times, “that reminds me when that happened to me.”  However if you do this more than once in a while you are not sharing you are dominating the conversation while you are pretending to listen.  It’s not about you.  When you are listening it’s about the other person.
  6. Don’t finish sentences for people.  If you do this you are anticipating what they are going to say.  That isn’t fair.  Show courtesy.
  7. Find ways to show sincere appreciation or compliments for what the person has done, said or feels.  You don’t have to promote yourself to feel better.  When you support others they will tend to think more positively about you and this will have a positive ripple effect.  It doesn’t take away from you to give credit to another; in fact it’s a way to feel good inside.
  8. You do not have to agree with the other person.  Showing empathy is acknowledging their feelings, it doesn’t mean you agree.  Stay in integrity with yourself.  You can understand that someone feels hurt even though you would feel differently in the same situation. Stay true to yourself while remaining a good listener.
  9. If you have a time limit let the person know, rather than frequently checking your watch.
  10. Be respectful to everyone.  Children, the elderly, a homeless person on the corner.  Treat others, as you would want to be treated.  If you say you will do something do it.  It doesn’t matter if the person has Alzheimer’s disease and may forget or it’s a small child.  This is your integrity.  You can’t turn it on and off as it suits you, you have to live it. 

Treat yourself well.  Other people treat you the way you treat yourself.  You set the tone.  If your relationships are one sided, don’t tolerate them.  If people are not listening to you, let them know what you would like. Develop and keep relationships that support you and are positive.  Don’t stay involved with people who are toxic to you, no matter what the relationship or situation.  Show compassion for others and show compassion for yourself. 

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