In the midst of our country’s mental health crisis, finding ways to connect with and understand one another is more important than ever. Some people experiencing mental health issues may need the care that can only be provided by trained professionals — therapists, nurses, doctors, social workers, etc. — while others may find what they need from organizations staffed by people possessing an essential, and yet often overlooked, characteristic: empathetic engagement. Using active listening techniques combined with a reflection of feelings and empathy to better understand the speaker, empathic listening is a real skill.

Being an empathic listener can benefit anyone — whether you use this skill as a professional or in your everyday life. Here’s how to become an empathic listener:

  1. Start by quieting your own mind and freeing yourself of any distractions. These steps will prepare you to listen fully and focus on the conversation at hand.
  2. Create a comfortable environment so that the speaker will feel open to sharing their feelings.
  3. Instill a personal desire to want to listen and understand what the other person is saying and feeling.
  4. Refrain from interrupting and wait to speak when the other person has finished and given you a clear opening.
  5. Using an encouraging and supportive tone, reflect their feelings or statements back to them to clarify or ensure you understood what they said.

While most of us have the capacity to listen, and even to actively listen, the skill of empathic listening can take time to develop and master. However, it’s never too late to choose to become a better listener. Your relationships and your communication skills will surely reap the rewards.

How to become an empathic listener