Friday, September 6, 2013

Two monologues don't make a dialogue: empathetic listening

What is empathy and why is it important?  Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else.  I was interested to read that the word has only been in use for about 100 years (I wonder why?). Empathy is also one of the PYP attitudes where it is defined as "imagining oneself in another's situation in order to understand his or her reasoning and emotions, so as to be open-minded and reflective about the perspectives of others."

Most people do not listen with the aim of understanding others - they are listening with the aim of replying, which means they are preparing to speak (about themselves/their opinion/feeling) instead of listening to what someone else is saying.  Conversations that result from this sort of listening have been described as "collective monologues".  Empathetic listening is different because it means you are listening with the intention of understanding another person and getting inside their perspective.  It doesn't involve agreeing with this perspective, but it does involve understanding the person on an emotional as well as an intellectual level.  It goes beyond listening with your ears, to encompass "listening" with your eyes and your heart.  Essentially this implies you are listening for meaning, and watching for behaviour and feeling.  The reason why it is so important to listen empathetically is that it gives us accurate data to work with and because it means we are seeking first to understand, before we are trying to be understood which is one of the habits of effective people.

Photo Credit: Steve Snodgrass via Compfight cc

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