Empathic Listening: Definition, Examples and Tips

Updated July 21, 2022

Being a close and caring listener can be as vital in the workplace as it is in your personal life. Validating others’ viewpoints and expressing your compassion is an important way of communicating for building and maintaining strong working relationships. In this article, we’ll define empathic listening, discuss why it’s important and provide tips and examples for empathic listening in your career. 

What is empathic listening? 

Empathic listening is the practice of being attentive and responsive to others’ input during conversation. Listening empathically entails making an emotional connection with the other person and finding similarities between their experience and your own so you can give a more heartfelt response. Also called active listening or reflective listening, empathic listening requires you to be considerate of the other party’s input. One main quality of empathic listening is giving support and encouragement rather than advice or criticism.

Read More: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

Qualities of an empathic listener

Here are some important qualities you’ll likely need in order to listen empathically:

  • Presence: More than just be physically in the same space with the speaker, presence entails being focused closely on the conversation. To be present, it is important to minimize external distractions and refrain from planning your responses while the other person is talking. 

  • Compassion: The main component to being an empathic listener is identifying with the other person’s emotional experience. Even if you haven’t experienced the same situation as the speaker, you can try to find similarities anyway. For instance, if a coworker states that they are having trouble adjusting to an increased workload, you may identify by thinking of a time when you had more chores at home. 

  • Wisdom: If someone is sharing something emotionally important with you, it’s likely because they trust your judgment and experience. Wisdom includes both understanding the speaker’s input and examining the circumstances around the problem to better grasp all the factors involved. For example, if one of your colleagues is having a conflict with another person in the department, you can acknowledge one person’s stress while also considering that the other party has their own challenges and is likely not trying to be offensive. 

  • Non-judgment: An important part of listening empathetically is to refrain from criticizing the other party, either out loud or to yourself. You may find that you disagree with something the speaker has said, but consider they have their own reasons for acting how they do.  

  • Trustworthiness: If you’re in a situation where the other person is speaking to you about emotional matters, it’s crucial to keep what they say in confidence. However, if they ask that you support them by mediating a conflict with another party, you may discuss the details of the conversation if it helps you achieve the speaker’s goal. 

  • Patience: Even with close colleagues and friends, it can be challenging to disclose emotional experiences. It may take the speaker some time to find the words for what they want to say and feel comfortable enough to express them. Be patient and allow them the time they need to speak freely. 

  • Responsiveness: Although empathic listening means listening to the other party without interjecting your input, there will likely be a time when the speaker wants to hear what you think. In these cases, it may help to clarify by asking, for instance, “Would you like to hear what I think about this?” or “What kind of feedback would you like from me?” 

Related: Character Traits: Definitions and Examples

Benefits of empathic listening 

Here are some of the main reasons to practice empathic listening in your career 

  • Building working relationships: If you’ve demonstrated that you can listen empathically, others may be more inclined to share their experience with you. This can help build trust and more positive interactions in the workplace.

  • Helping you act considerately: Once you’re in the habit of considering others’ feelings, you may be more likely to act kindly and compassionately in your day-to-day life. For instance, if a coworker was hurt by the tone of a colleague’s email, you can consider making the wording of your own emails more upbeat and encouraging.  

  • Increasing productivity: When coworkers trust and understand each other, they typically work better as a team. When there is minimized conflict, they can spend more of the day working, resulting in greater output. 

  • Problem solvingWorkplace challenges frequently require that teammates work together to find solutions. If you have a history of trust and open sharing with your coworkers, you all may feel more comfortable proposing new approaches to workplace issues. For instance, if your colleague just told you they feel like another coworker has not respected their proposals for new sales approaches, you can find ways to validate their input in a meeting so others are more considerate. As a result, the new campaign might be more comprehensive and successful. 

How to listen empathically

Being a present and caring listener takes practice. Here are some steps you can take to build your empathic listening skills

  1. Create a comfortable space for sharing

  2. Acknowledge the speaker’s feelings

  3. Pay attention to body language 

  4. Let them guide the conversation

  5. Wait to speak 

  6. Be encouraging

1. Create a comfortable space for sharing.

Giving the speaker a safe place for the discussion can make them more likely to confide in you. For instance, if you’re in an office, you can turn your computer monitors off and, if it will not disrupt business, turn off your phones.

Creating a comfortable space can also entail acting comfortable yourself. If the other participant in the conversation sees that you are calm, they might respond by calming down too. Consider practicing deep breathing so you are more present and attentive. 

2. Acknowledge the speaker’s feelings.

When listening empathically, it is important to let the other party know you are considering their feelings. Although you want to keep your input to a minimum, short phrases can indicate to the speaker that you’re aware of their emotions and believe they’re important. For instance, you can say, “I hear you” or “I see that this brings up strong emotions.”

3. Pay attention to body language.

The speaker may indicate discomfort with their posture and mannerisms. For instance, if they’re tapping their feet or not sitting up straight, they may be nervous. Consider responding to this with more affirmations, maintaining a confident posture and speaking slowly and calmly. 

4. Let them guide the conversation.

Remember that the point of these discussions is to let the speaker air their feelings at their own pace. If there are breaks in the conversation, it is appropriate to remain in silence until the other party starts speaking again. If they decide to end the conversation abruptly, letting them leave without asking them to keep going can indicate that you respect their feelings. 

5. Wait to speak. 

Holding your opinions until the other party asks for them demonstrates that you value their input and respect their wishes. If, after sharing, the speaker says, “What do you think?” you may offer your opinion. Otherwise, it is likely best to simply listen and give small acknowledgments. 

6. Be encouraging. 

If someone is confiding in you, it may be because they are struggling with something that they don’t know how to manage. If and when the other party asks for your input, you can encourage them by saying “I believe you can respond to this situation” or “I can see that you’re kind and considerate and I think that will help you manage this challenge.” With effective encouragement, your conversation partner may feel more confident in the present situation and others going forward. 

Phrases for empathic listeners 

When you’re in a situation where someone is speaking to you in confidence, consider using these phrases to show them you’re listening empathically: 

  • “I understand what you’re saying.” 

  • “I’m sure that must be challenging.”

  • “I identify with what you’re going through.” 

  • “Thank you for sharing this with me.”

  • “How did that experience make you feel? 

  • “I appreciate that you trust me with this information.” 

  • “I have had a similar experience.” 

  • “I can see why that is bothering you.”

  • “I support the decision you make.” 

  • “I am happy to help with whatever you need me to.” 

  • “How can I best support you right now?”

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