Empathic listening, which is also known as active listening, is a form of problem solving. The basic concept involves sitting back, listening, and emphasizing while another person speaks freely about their feelings. As they hear themselves speak about an issue, they will have a better understanding of their own feelings and will come up with a solution on their own.
Empathic listening can build trust between two people. It can reduce tension. It can create a safe, comfortable environment for expressing emotions.
If you want to build trust with a friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend, here are a few pieces of advice on how to listen with empathy:
1. Avoid giving advice. Avoid pointing them in the right direction and avoid cliche phrases about how everything is going to work out in the end. The point of empathic listening is not to fix their problems. It’s to hear their problems. It’s to reflect back how they are feeling in order to give them a clearer understanding of what they are experiencing. They will figure out a solution on their own. You just have to sit there with them until they do.
2. Ask open-ended questions. Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Stick to questions that prompt longer, more thought-out answers. Try asking something like, “How does that make you feel?” or “What are you going to do next?”
3. Allow them to dominate the discussion. When someone is opening up to you about their feelings, do not change the subject. Do not talk over them. Do not take control of the conversation. Give them the time and the space to speak.
4. Remain attentive. Do not stare at your phone. Do not stare off in the distance. Make eye contact, nod, and lean forward to show you are interested in what they have to say. Make it clear their problems matter to you, their thoughts matter to you.
5. Avoid adding your own stories. When they open up to you about a problem, you don’t have to tell them about the time the same exact thing happened to you. Comparing stories can make it seem like you are trying to one-up them or make the conversation about you. Instead, you can keep it simple and say, “I understand.”
6. Hold yourself back from breaking silences. Even though silences might make you uncomfortable, they can give the other person the time they need to gather their thoughts. Give them a minute to process their feelings before moving the conversation forward because the silence might be exactly what they need.
7. Do not put a time limit on the conversation. You don’t want to cram an important conversation into a fifteen-minute lunch break. You want the other person to feel like they have plenty of time to talk about what’s been bothering them. If they feel rushed, then they are not going to get everything out. They are going to skip over details and miss out on the opportunity to learn something new about themselves.
8. Do not judge them. Even if you disagree with them, you do not have to lecture them. You not have to make them feel guilty about their thoughts and opinions. You are there to listen, not to pass judgement.
9. Restate their feelings. If they keep mentioning how angry they are, repeat the words you are feeling angry back to them. Even though it seems redundant, hearing you repeat their feelings can help them process the emotion and can encourage them to elaborate.
10. Treat them with kindness. Some people have trouble opening up to others because they are worried about being considered a burden. Make sure the other person realizes listening to them is not a chore for you. Remind them you are happy to be there, happy to be helping them.
11. Check to see if they have anything more to say. If they seem like they are finished speaking, make sure to ask them if there’s anything else they want to get off their chest. If they say they are finished, check in on them later in the week (or in the day) to see how they are coping.