Empathetic Listening: 10 Things NOT To Do
Empathetic Listening is a learned skill. Most people did not grow up either receiving or practicing this powerful way of communicating. There is a whole lot to say about this art, and in this article, the focus is on a list of 10 things NOT to do while listening to someone with your whole attention. There are dozens of things you should avoid, and this list just starts alphabetically with 10 suggestions of 10 things NOT to do. If this is a new behavior, some of these things will feel strange. Don’t worry, you will find dozens of opportunities to practice this art with just about anyone that you run across during your day.
- Advise: Don’t give advice, counsel or offer opinions or suggestions to your partner during this interchange. Empathetic listening is not a normal two way conversation.
- Analyze: Don’t analyze what the other person is saying. Your job as an empathetic listener is not to critically examine what your partner is saying. As your skills in listening increase, you will not only stop yourself from saying out loud your criticism, but you’ll notice they will stop in your head too.
- Argue: Don’t argue with anything your partner is saying, don’t present reasons for or against anything. This is not the time for adversary both out loud, and in your head.
- Argue about facts: Even if you think your partner has gotten some facts wrong – dates, names or such. These ‘facts’ are irrelevant to listening with heart. Don’t try to correct.
- Ask indirect questions: Don’t ask for clarification about things that don’t matter, just to satisfy a curiosity. You don’t need to have all the details filled in to listen with heart.
- Be emotional: It is important to stay calm, and not use exaggerated facial expressions of things like shock or anger or disgust while listening. Your emotions will distract the speaker from their own process.
- Be prejudiced: Keep an open mind about everything you think you know. You have an opportunity to challenge your own prejudices and stay impartial and receptive to new or different ideas. If you find your mind closing down, stop, and remember your job as an empathetic listener.
- Become defensive: Don’t take anything personally. If you are feeling attacked or accused, remember your job is to listen impartially. If you find yourself presenting evidence, rationalizing or justifying, you are defensive. This means verbally, or mentally in your head. Put it all aside, and just listen.
- Blame: Assigning blame to any person, situation or principle is counter-productive to empathetic listening. Just let the person know you have heard them.
- Change the subject: Make sure that you don’t advertently or inadvertently start talking about something different. This is called hijacking or derailing the conversation. It is very disrespectful, and can shut your partner down.
The word partner has been used just to indicate the other person in the interchange. Once you start using these principles in your daily communication with people, you will become amazed at how people respond to you, and your relationships will flourish. People likely won’t know why they feel so much better after talking with you, but true empathetic listening affords the speaker a tremendous opportunity to work things out for themselves.