You probably have heard the expression, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
A colleague was telling me about a medical specialist that she sees on occasion. After the doctor does his exam, he asks if she has any questions.
If she brings up an issue, the doctor “listens,” as he pastes on a wooden half smile. He nods quickly — too quickly — as if he is relating.
But, the clear impression this doctor projects is that the appointment is finished … he’s out of there. His answers are perfunctory, with little probing. He has great medical skills and he’s a smart man, but he’s not able to connect with his patients in a genuine manner. This demonstrates a lack of empathetic listening skills.
Empathetic listening skills are not just important for health care specialists. They are critical for business leaders, too. Showing a genuine interest in others may come more naturally to some people than others, but it is a skill that can be developed.
Empathetic listening skills encompass active listening and genuine caring, and they are demonstrated in honest and genuine communication.
In BRODYpro workshops, we have participants pair up to practice empathetic listening skills. One thing to remember is that empathy is not the same as problem solving. Problem solving might be on the agenda down the road, but only if the person gives permission and/or asks for guidance.
This is a common complaint in relationships with significant others … “All I want him (her) to do is listen and understand, not jump in and try to solve my problems.” The same is true in workplace interpersonal connections.
When someone expresses a problem, concern, anxiety or frustration, here are 5 tools you can use to improve your empathetic listening skills:
- Acknowledge the feelings
- Validate concerns
- Refrain from arguing or debating the issues
- Ask clarifying questions (if relevant)
- Reveal something about yourself that will connect with their experience
Demonstrating empathetic listening skills requires an interest in people (personally and professionally), spending time, and paying attention. When you show interest, it’s amazing how quickly people will open up.
One things to keep in mind: empathy means understanding others. It doesn't mean you like them or agree with what they are saying! Often, we make snap judgments about people and decide we can’t empathize with them because we don’t like them. You can empathize with anyone – note I didn’t say you have to like them.
Be aware of your own filters and how they color your impressions of others. In order to demonstrate empathetic listening skills, we need to pay attention to how our feelings are impacting our openness to others.
First and foremost, empathetic listening is an opportunity to support a fellow human being.