As behavioral health professionals, it becomes second nature to find new ways to learn and grow, all with the goal of better supporting our clients. A client-centered tool that is essential to fostering connection is empathic engagement. Last week, we dove into the benefits of being an empathic listener, in both our personal and professional lives. This week we’ll get into the steps necessary to better our empathic listening skills.

As a refresher — empathic/empathetic listening is a valuable and powerful way to connect beyond simply hearing what our clients are saying. This skill involves understanding and connecting with the speaker on an emotional level by acknowledging feelings and providing a safe space for expression. This form of listening requires genuine interest, patience, and the ability to withhold judgment.

Understanding the stages of empathic listening provides insight into how this skill unfolds during a conversation. The process typically involves the following stages:

  • Receiving: Actively focus on the speaker, demonstrating interest through non-verbal cues like eye contact and body language.
  • Understanding: Comprehend the speaker’s words and emotions. This involves not only hearing the words spoken but also grasping the underlying feelings.
  • Evaluating: Reflect on the speaker’s message without immediately formulating a response. This stage requires thoughtful consideration before offering feedback.
  • Responding:Craft a response that validates the speaker’s emotions and provides a thoughtful contribution to the conversation.
By incorporating these stages into conversations, individuals can practice empathic listening and refine this skill over time.

Steps to Becoming an Empathic Listener:

  1. Quiet Your Mind: Begin by quieting your mind and eliminating distractions. Clear mental clutter to fully focus on the conversation at hand. This sets the foundation for empathic listening.
  2. Create a Comfortable Environment: Establish a comfortable environment where the speaker feels open to sharing their feelings. Physical comfort contributes to emotional openness.
  3. Cultivate a Personal Desire to Listen: Develop a genuine desire to listen and understand the other person’s thoughts and emotions. This personal commitment lays the groundwork for empathic engagement.
  4. Avoid Interruptions: Refrain from interrupting the speaker. Allow them to express themselves fully before responding. This demonstrates respect for their perspective and experiences.
  5. Use Encouraging Language: Employ an encouraging and supportive tone when responding. Reflect the speaker’s feelings or statements back to them, ensuring clarity and understanding.

Empathic listening is a skill that, while innate to some extent, requires practice and continuous refinement. While many of us can listen, actively engaging with empathy takes time to master. However, the decision to become a better listener can never be made too late. The rewards extend to improved relationships and enhanced communication skills.

Connecting on a deeper level: empathic engagement