Active Listening

Active Listening – the Empathic Response

“Listening first aid” – this is useful when the speaker is

    • unable to think clearly about the problem, and
    • not receptive to outside input

The listener’s role is to

    • help the speaker to say what she means
    • help the speaker to know that she has been understood and has a right to be understood

The speaker should

    • say what she means
    • check to see that her message has been understood

The listener should

    • try to understand
    • respect pauses and do not interrupt
    • show that he understands with responses which:
      • are brief
      • restate the speaker’s message in the listener’s words
      • may probe or guess at deeper aspects of the speaker’s view

Questions can be used to help the speaker begin speaking or recover from a break in the communication. Some ways to help the speaker take control of the conversation are

    • investigative questions (elicit more information)
    • analytical comments (for example, if the speaker is expressing conflict, try to clarify the conflict)
    • summary of what has been heard
    • an invitation for the person to say more
    • body language that shows interest
    • empathic comments.

Some forms these actions can take are

    • dangling or fill in the blank questions (“You are worried because …?”)
    • repeating a phrase or keyword in the same tone of voice (“You’re worried he will be angry.”)
    • repeating what was said in different words (“So, what I’ve heard you say is —”)
    • questions about feelings (“Did that upset you?”)
    • body language

All of these are skills which must be practiced to develop. A good listener has sufficient confidence in himself to be able to listen to others without fear. In contrast to a diagnostic approach to helping, the listener:

    • takes an empathic posture (motivates the other to speak without feeling judged)
    • does not use pauses as an excuse to interrupt
    • permits the speaker to direct the conversation


“Empathic listening skills require a different subset of proficiencies than conversing, and it is certainly an acquired skill. Many individuals, at first, find the process somewhat uncomfortable. Furthermore, people are often surprised at the exertion required to become a competent listener. Once the skill is attained, there is nothing automatic about it. In order to truly listen, we must set aside sufficient time to do so. Perhaps the root of the challenge lies here. People frequently lose patience when listening to another’s problem. Empathic listening is incompatible with being in a hurry, or with the fast paced world around us. Such careful listening requires that we, at least for the moment, place time on slow motion and suspend our own thoughts and needs. Clearly, there are no shortcuts to empathic listening.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.