Empathy and Listening Skills

The use of empathy and listening skills sometimes leads to good relationships and emotional intimacy. The combination of empathy and listening skills is also known as "empathic listening."

Here's an example of how empathic listening differs from another type of listening: I'm listening to a computer instructor explain how to use a new word processing program. She is delivering her explanation with enthusiasm.

One type of listening focuses on understanding the program in order to learn how to use it. While listening I might be having thoughts such as:

  • This new version doesn't differ much from the previous one.
  • I don't understand the new way of formatting a page.
  • I have many questions to ask during the question period.

Another type of listening, empathic listening, focuses on understanding the instructor's enthusiasm in order to learn something about her. While listening I might be having thoughts such as:

  • She certainly enjoys teaching this word processing program.
  • I think she would enjoy teaching any subject.
  • She seems very impressed with the usefulness of this new version.

To summarize the difference between the purpose of the two types of listening: understanding the information the instructor is presenting as compared with understanding the meaning to her of presenting the information. The "meaning" to her would consist of items such as:

  • her feelings about teaching
  • the importance to her of teaching this particular program
  • her evaluation of the program

One type of listening focuses on the program and the other focuses on her. Another term for "focuses on her" is "listens to empathize."

Relevant Biographical Note   ooooooo

When I was practicing clinical psychology, I used both types of listening with people who consulted me (Lawrence J. Bookbinder, Ph.D.) for help with a psychological problem. This dual listening is an aspect of a special type of conversation between psychotherapists and clients. By contrast, according to my observations, most conversations outside of psychotherapists' offices used mostly only one type of listening--focused on understanding the information being presented by the person talking.

One day I said to myself: "My use of empathic listening helps me connect with my clients. Perhaps non-psychotherapists would connect with their conversation partners more often if they used empathic listening more often. I will begin a public service project to educate people about the value of this conversational skill so they will more often think of using both types of listening during some conversations."

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Some of My Other Websites on Empathy and Listening Skills

Empathy, Listening, Skills, and Relationships is a six-page website which contains information about empathic listening.

Listening Skills Professionals Listen Empathically -1 explains why I advocate that society establish the profession of empathic listener as a profession separate and independent from that of psychotherapist.

Listening Skills and Relationships is a discussion board about empathy and listening skills which includes messages from me and my responses to messages from others. To read or post messages, you do not have to register. Visit the board to read questions and answers, ask or answer questions, share experiences, etc.

Copyright © 2002, 2003, and 2004 by Lawrence J. Bookbinder, Ph.D. and last revised on May 2, 2004. I also have a website on the noncancerous enlarged prostate.