How can I be a Better Listener?

Stephen R. Covey calls empathic listening "psychological air”. He continues, "The greatest need of the human heart is to be understood. “

“What air is to the lungs, listening is to the soul.” Unknown author

People can disagree on an issue and still understand where the other person is coming from. One can increase their understanding of why another sees the world the way they do. We can increase our understanding, love and acceptance of each other without giving up our own view or beliefs.

Remember a time when someone really listened to you and validated your view. Validation is not agreeing or disagreeing. Validation is allowing the other person to have their opinion and their emotions about the situation. They may not agree with you but you felt heard and they were trying to understand how you saw things. This is powerful and so important in our relationships.

What does listening mean to you? What does it look like?

A helpful technique to improve Empathetic Listening from Dr. Stephen R. Covey can be summarized in 5 simple steps.​

  1. Provide the speaker with your undivided attention. This is one time “multi-tasking” or “rapid refocus” will get you in trouble.

  2. Be non-judgmental. Don’t minimize or trivialize the speaker’s issue.

  3. Read the speaker. Observe the emotions behind the words. Is the speaker angry, afraid, frustrated or resentful? Respond to the emotion as well as the words.

  4. Be Quiet. Don’t feel you must have an immediate reply. Often if you allow for some quiet after the speaker has vented, they themselves will break the silence and offer a solution.

  5. Assure your understanding. Ask clarifying questions and restate what you perceive the speaker to be saying.

Empathetic Listening starters

  1. So, if I am understanding you correctly you are saying…

  2. What I’m hearing is…

  3. You seem…

  4. You must have felt…

  5. You feel…about…

Like all of you, there are times when I have been deeply hurt. Sometimes it seems that my best isn’t good enough. Then I remember I have the strength to not give up and can continue to work to become better. I am human and imperfect and so are others and that is okay.

I could choose to become bitter and blame others, or stay empathic and keep my belief in people and use feedback and experience to become a better version of myself. I choose the harder path and will keep my belief and love of people.

What are some ways you have found effective to either validate another person's perspective, or to feel validated yourself?

Jennifer White, CSW has extensive experience in helping clients with faith transitions, sexuality concerns, anger management, substance use disorders, domestic violence, and self-esteem. She has also taught psychology and social work classes as adjunct faculty at Utah Valley University.

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