While I was teaching college freshman English, I spent quite a bit of time teaching my students about active listening skills, which I feel are at the heart of empathy. Since I used peer groups for evaluating each other’s papers, it was important to me that they engage in the process in the most empathetic way possible. I thought it unsafe to assume everyone had previous active listening instruction, so we went over the basics, which are key to creating an empathetic environment. As a refresher, here they are:
Everything about you should indicate the speaker has your undivided attention—eye contact, posture, placement of arms and legs—lean forward, stop fidgeting
Depending on what is being said, you may have some knee-jerk reactions. Govern your face to keep it open and responsive. Fire your inner judge.
It’s OK to pause for a moment and think about your response. The air does not have to be filled with words as soon as the speaker is finished. Your thoughtfulness will be valued.
If anything is unclear, now is the time to ask questions for clarification. Do not stop until you’re sure you completely understand what they’re trying to say.
Restate what you think their main ideas/issues are. “So here’s what I’m hearing you say….”
Do not be stingy with your response. Again, you are modeling empathy and vulnerability. Just be guided by what you think has value
- Limit distractionsPay attention to speaker, not what you want to say in response
- Be OK with silence
- Encourage other person to offer ideas and solutions
- Restate key points to clarify