Listening with Empathy

“Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood,” is the fifth success habit from Steven R. Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  He talks about listening with empathy, not sympathy; listening by getting inside another person’s frame of reference.

Listening with empathy involves much more than registering, reflecting, or even understanding the words that are said.  Communication experts estimate, in fact, that only 10 percent of communication is represented by the words one says.  Another 30 percent is represented by sounds and 60 percent by body language.  Listening with empathy is listening with your ears, your eyes, and your heart.  You listen for feeling, for meaning.  You listen for behavior.  You use your right brain as well as your left.  You sense, you intuit, you feel.

One of the basic human needs that motivates is to be understood, validated and appreciated.  Only when that need is met is someone open to receiving advice.  Listening with empathy can also be risky.  It takes a great deal of security to go into a deep listening experience because you open yourself up to be influenced.  you become vulnerable.  It’s a paradox, in a sense, because in order to have influence over others, you have to be willing to be influenced yourself.  That means you have to really understand.

Listening with empathy takes time and practice.  A manager who is willing to try to see things from the employee’s perspective is a leader who will hear the real problems and needs of the employees.  The time to start listening is now.  The difference it makes will definitely be worth the effort, both personally and professionally.