5 Skills to Effective Empathetic Listening

Have you mastered the five skills to effective and empathetic listening? Find them below with tips to master each skill. This is how you become an emotionally intelligent leader.

What is Listening?

Effective listening is defined as “hearing something with thoughtful attention.” While empathetic listening is understanding the emotions being felt and not only the words expressed. Effective and empathetic listening then is to pay thoughtful attention to not only what a person is saying, but what they are feeling – their emotions.

Why Do We Listen?

We listen to connect, to learn, to lead, to support, to validate, to affirm, to resolve, and to empathize with others. This is also the foundation to developing emotional intelligence. Consider how you feel about those who genuinely listen to you? You appreciate, trust, and turn to them. Be a listener and you’ll be the person people turn to, trust, and rely on.

The 5 Skills of Listening

So, how do you effectively and empathetically listen? Below are five simple skills, and while they are not always easy to practice, they are all skills that can be learned and mastered, including by you:

  1. Look the person in the eyes
  2. Don’t worry about what you’re going to say next
  3. Pay attention to body language
  4. Acknowledge them and what’s been said
  5. Repeat back and check for understanding

Look a Person in the Eyes

This shows a person that you care and that they have your undivided attention. It opens the door of trust and vulnerability. This also opens your eyes to see past the words that are being said and into how they are feeling. Develop this habit – when somebody speaks to you, put your phone down, or turn away from your computer, and face them as you look them in the eyes. Watch them open up.

Don’t Worry About What You’ll Say

Just listen. Sometimes this is hard. Just take a breath, and try to fully and completely understand what a person is saying, with their words and with their body language.

Pay Attention to Body Language

Communication is 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal, and 7% words only. As you look into a person’s eyes, focus on strictly understanding, you’ll notice their body language and what it’s saying. Is it closed? Open? Concerned? Nervous? Scared? Indifferent? Loose and care-free? Focused and engaged? Clenched fists, downcast eyes, leaning forward, open arms, good posture, head nods yes, or head nods no? These acts all communicate to you what they’re feeling, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Acknowledge Them and What They’re Saying

Use this skill to create a buffer between what a person has said and what you’ll say. It’s like giving a conversation a deep breath, a chance to settle. Much like adding white space to text by adding paragraphs and spacing it out. This is the gentle clutch to help you smoothly shift gears. This may seem insignificant until you start applying it to your conversations, and you’ll find that it adds a significant layer of connection, understanding, and calm to a conversation. This is simply saying, “Thank you for sharing that, {name}.” “That’s hard to share {name}, I appreciate you sharing it.” “I’m glad you shared this with me {name}.” Studies have shown this to be a vital step to connecting in conversation, small though it may seem.

Repeat Back and Confirm Understanding

Avoid the tendency to jump into “your turn to talk.” You’ll be surprised how often you’ve filtered what was said and missed something. You’ll also be surprised with how frequently a person will dive deeper into their real issues that they’ve not yet shared. How do you confirm understanding? With a few simple phrases:

  • “Just to make sure I understand, you’re saying that …”
  • “I want to make sure this is clear in my head, you feel that …”
  • “It sounds like you feel …?”
  • “It seems like  … , did I understand that right?”

Occasionally, a person will respond, “yeah, I think so,” and frequently they’ll say, “Kind of, but …” and you’ll learn a lot in that follow-up. Make sure you understand before you move on, or else the rest of the conversation is disconnected and two trains going down two different paths. Verify understanding and you’ll be aligned, connected, and move forward together.

This is how to effectively and empathetically listen and develop emotional intelligence as a leader.

“Lead by listening – to be a good leader you have to be a great listener.” Richard Branson

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