Listening has become an important part of our daily lives. Learning how to show empathy while listening is an essential skill for anyone who wants to build relationships with others, communicate more effectively, and lead in their field–and it’s much easier than you think. This is known as listening empathetically.

This article will cover the basics of what empathetic listening is, how it can be practised, and why it’s an important skill to have.

Firstly, what is listening empathetically?

Empathetic listening is a type of active listening in which you convey unconditional positive regard to the speaker. It involves not only hearing what they have to say, but also considering what they are saying and trying to understand it in a way that puts yourself in their shoes.

Listening Empathetically

What this means is that when interacting with your fellow human beings, you should be trying to put yourself into their position, rather than imposing your own thoughts and opinions onto them.

Showing empathy can cause your listener to feel at ease and more willing to open up, this will allow you to be more interested and invested in their story and feelings.

Empathetic listening is important because it allows the speaker to release deep-rooted emotions that they might be holding inside.

A lot of therapists use empathetic listening as a technique where they use it as a technique where they ask questions which they know will be hard for their client to answer.

How to listen empathetically: The 4 stages

There is a process to listening empathetically, which can be summarised very simply.

Listen for the shared experience

By sharing your experience with the person, they will feel a bond between you. This is a more personal way of listening that is important to do. It will help you to feel much more connected and at ease. Sharing common interests with the person will help you to be more interested in them and take their views more seriously, which will help you to be able to listen more empathetically.

Empathise with the emotions

Understanding how you can help them will allow them to feel heard and understood. Try understanding why they are upset, frustrated, happy or whatever emotion they express. When you show your understanding of how that person feels, they will feel more able to express themselves.

Encourage them to express their feelings

Helping them release their emotions will help them feel more at ease and able to speak their mind freely. Encouraging people that they are in a safe space and open to vulnerability will allow them to feel they can be honest. This will stop them having to hold back what they are saying and be more openly honest.

Understand what they are saying

Understanding what they are saying is vital so that you have a full understanding of what they have been telling you. This can really help if you try to convey back to them what you think they mean when they speak. They will feel like you have heard and understood them, and that they can open up more to you.

Benefits of listening empathetically

After considering what you have read so far, you might be trying to work out how exactly empathetic listening benefits the listener, rather than the speaker. Here are some of the many potential advantages:

  1. It makes the speaker feel good about sharing their thoughts with you since they know that you are taking them seriously. This often leads to deeper conversations and more meaningful connections between two people, which can lead to better relationships in general.
  2. This allows them to feel more comfortable when they are telling you what is on their mind, they are more likely to open up and be honest.
  3. It allows the speaker to release any deep emotions they might have hidden away inside. This can lead to more meaningful conversations between two people, since both of them have been free to be themselves without worrying about what others think of them.
  4. It helps the speaker feel understood, which can lead to feeling more comfortable about opening up, being honest with others, sharing thoughts, feelings and ideas with them.

How you can listen empathetically

There are many ways that you can listen empathetically. The following ideas are the most effective for people who are just beginning to listen empathetically.

  1. Show your attention and interest in what they have to say
  2. Reflect the speaker’s thoughts and feelings back to them
  3. Refrain from arguing and defending your own argumentative thoughts and beliefs
  4. Focus on the speaker’s feelings and emotions, rather than on logic or reason
  5. Ask questions which will help you better understand their point of view
  6. Allow them to feel free to express their ideas, feelings and emotions without fear of ridicule
  7. Allow them to be vulnerable and relax so that they can open up more
  8. Try not to interrupt the speaker unless it’s necessary
  9. Don’t use words that are designed for manipulation or control of the situation, such as ‘why?’ or ‘how could you?’
  10. Make sure not to use words that will make them defensive, such as ‘always’ or ‘never’

Example scenarios of listening empathetically

Let’s take a look at some different scenarios of people trying to listen empathetically.

Scenario 1: You meet someone for the first time and you want to make a good impression on them.

How would you try to listen empathetically in this scenario?

When you meet someone for the first time it’s important to try and chat with them and get things going, but it’s also important that you try and take an interest in what they have to say. When you are trying to make an impression on someone, that also means that you are trying to help them unwrap their personality. This is why it’s important to show an interest in what they have to say, this will help them trust you more and feel more open with you.

When the speaker pauses, this is a good sign that they are concerned about how you will react or feel. Don’t overreact by being over-friendly right away. Take the time to see how the speaker reacts before you make a decision on whether or not you want to talk more or if they are a good first impression.

Check out these 4 easy steps for making a first impression:

1. Make eye contact

This is the best way to determine how comfortable you will feel around someone, as eye contact shows that you are paying attention and that they find your actions interesting.

2. Smile

If you smile you will be communicating that you are happy to be around them, especially if they are smiling too. This is the best way to show that you are glad to have met them, even if it’s short term.

3. Be friendly but not too chatty

The best way to show that you are listening is by not talking about yourself too much and letting them open up more. This is not easy for most people, especially if you haven’t met someone before, but the more they open up to you, the more they will like you.

4. Ask questions

The best way to start conversations with strangers is by asking them questions about themselves. This is because people like talking about themselves and what they are passionate about. Try asking questions that are not too heavy or intense right away, but try making them feel at ease with you by taking an interest in their thoughts and feelings.

Scenario 2: You see your best friend looking sad or upset, but you don’t know what’s wrong.

How would you try to listen empathetically in this scenario?

It can be easy to overreact when you first meet someone who looks upset, especially if the person is your best friend. You may think ‘What’s wrong? Is everything alright?’ This may make the person more uncomfortable and they may feel pressured to pretend that everything is normal, which can lead to them being unnatural around you.

Try not to overreact and instead, try and see how the person acts and reacts before making a decision on whether you can be friends with them or not.

Check out these 11 tips for making new friends:

1. Approach cautiously

Before you meet someone for the first time, make sure they are who they say they are and that it’s safe for you to talk with them.

2. Be yourself

The best way to make friends is by being true to yourself, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. People can sense when you’re not being honest and this is why they will always give more respect and trust to people who are more genuine and behaving like their true self.

3. Don’t make any assumptions

It’s best not to assume anything about anyone, even if it’s your best friend who you know inside out. Don’t take assumptions as facts, as this can lead to hurt feelings and disappointment.

4. Find things that you both like

If you find things that you both like, such as hobbies and interests, you may be able to use those as the basis of a friendship. If you share similar interests, it will be easier to relate and connect with the other person too.

5. Be funny and make jokes

Making jokes can break awkwardness and make people laugh, which is a good way to make first impressions too. Try and make jokes and see how the person reacts to them, this will help you determine whether you want to be friends with them.

6. Focus on their feelings and emotions

When you make a joke, try and focus on the other person’s feelings and emotions rather than your own. This will help you see if they like or dislike your jokes or not, but by focusing on them it will also allow them to relax and unwind more around you too.

7. Be respectful and kind

Always try and be respectful and kind to everyone you meet, especially if they are your friends. This doesn’t mean that you should agree with everything they say, but at least show an interest in trying to understand how they feel.

8. Listen carefully to what they have to say

If you want to get people talking about themselves, make them feel like you are interested in them. The best way for you to do this is by making sure that you listen carefully when they are talking about themselves. This will showcase your interest and make them talk more.

9. Don’t make snap decisions

When you first meet someone it is best not to make any hasty decisions about whether you want to be friends with them or not, especially if they are new to you. This includes things like how much money they have, what type of car they drive, etc… Don’t judge them too quickly, but instead take some time before making a decision on whether or not you want to be friends with them.

10. Try and be honest with yourself

Try and be honest with yourself, as this will help you be more realistic in your approach to the person. Try and see things from their point of view as well as from your own. Try to understand where they are coming from and see if you can find a solution or a way to help them feel better or happier.

11. Don’t underestimate the other person

Try not to take things too personally, especially if they are people you consider friends. Sometimes you may find that friends do things that we don’t like or disagree with, but it’s important not to take this personally. If they are your friends and they say no to an invitation, then try and see this as a way to help them relax and unwind more around you too.


Listening empathetically and following the steps above will help you to practice and improve your listening skills. It’s important that you always try and be as open minded as possible when you first meet someone, especially if they are strangers or new to you.

Try and connect with them as best as possible by taking an interest in them as a person and their thoughts and feelings, instead of focusing on who they are as a person or what they may look like. This will help you to create a more relaxed and comfortable atmosphere around you and make it easier for them to open up too.

If you want to become a better listener, try and focus on the other person as much as possible. By focusing on what they have to say as well as your own feelings, you will be able to respond creatively to what they have been saying. This will allow them to see you as a friend who can understand them better and be more open with their comments.

If you focus on yourself, then the other person will find it difficult to relate to you. Empathy is one of the most important attributes that anyone can have. If you are able to express your empathy towards others, then this will help them feel more comfortable around you.

Remember, people are always happier when they are able to be themselves around others and not have to pretend or hide parts of themselves away. This is why escaping the closet is so important for everyone.

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