Empathetic Listening

Empathetic listening entails having the ability to listen to another individual while showing aspects of empathy. This entails emotional identification, feeling, compassion and insight. The basic principle involved is seeking to understand the other person, before being understood (Worthington & Fitch-Hauser, 2015).  One should also aim at connecting emotionally with the affected party while attempting to connect cognitively at the same time. It is more of an active listening proponent. Concentration is more on how the other party is feeling.

This explanation brings back the memories of a conversation that I had with my friend Johnson some months ago. It was late in the evening when I visited his apartment for some chat as we discuss a new venture that we wanted to indulge in. I knocked for some time without getting any response. It was somewhat weird since he knew about the meeting, which was supposed to take place in his house. I decided to call him, and he picked the phone with a tone that I was not used to. Johnson opened the door looking like “shit.” “I did not think it was you on the door and that is why I was not responding.” Those were the only words that came from his mouth as he ushered me in. “What is wrong with you mate”? I was eager to know what was going on, so I was quick to ask even before I went in. I was used to seeing a jovial Johnson full of life and passion. At first, I thought he was sick or something.

“I never thought Samantha would do this to me,” is the only thing he could say. He seemed very disgusted, angry and depressed at the same time. After inquiring for some time, he told me that he had caught his girlfriend cheating on him with another guy. At first, I was all on him, saying the “I told you so” statement repeatedly.   I remembered how I was critical of Samantha when they first met and saw this as an opportunity to lash out all the feelings that I had kept hidden about her. It was at this point when Johnson seemed even more aggrieved. I realized I was not being emphatic at all, and I was only making things worse. I just took a deep stare at him (in silence) all the while as he gazed at the floor. I have never seen Johnson like this, and at this point, I realized he needed me to be there for him. Acting as if this was something minor was not going to help.

After the silence, I decided to change the way I approached the whole issue. Being critical was not the appropriate thing to do after I realized how Johnson had been affected by the situation. I had to show Johnson that I cared about how he felt at that moment. I commenced by asking him what had transpired. Johnson composed himself and started to narrate the ordeal that had taken place the previous night. He visited his girlfriend and found her pants down with another man. I was silent all this time as he narrated the story. All I did is nod my head once in a while based on the comments that he was making. Based on his body language, and the tone of his voice, he was truly raged. He really loved Samantha, and would not have expected such a thing to happen.

I sat there in silence, trying to be as empathetic as possible. I asked him how he felt about the whole thing. “I feel betrayed, angry and I don’t think I will want to see her again.” “Where did I go wrong, and the way I was good to her”? “I am done with relationships.” These were the words coming from his mouth. I did my best not to interrupt as he expressed himself. I only listened and never gave my opinion. This boosted his confidence since he realized that I was not judgmental. He continued to talk about the nature of the relationship that he had with Samantha and the things he had sacrificed to make sure that she was happy.

Every time he vented, I ensured that I remained quiet. This made him to continue even further.   He seemed to get some relief from this type on interaction. It was clear that he had a lot bottled up, and this was a great opportunity to let it all out. I asked him what he wanted to do next. I made sure that I did not give him any suggestions. Mine was just to listen to what he had to say. He said that his mind was not clear at that time, and he needed to sleep it off. All I did was encourage him by saying, “yes sleep it off; I think that is a good idea.” This conversation went along for some time, and I could tell that he was now feeling better. Speaking out his mind and having someone to listen seemed like a great relief on his side. I felt helpful at the same time too.

In conclusion, I did not act as an empathetic listener when I first met Johnson in the situation that he was in. Initially, I just thought it was the type of thing where we just have to laugh at each other as a way of putting the issue to bed. I was a bit judgmental since I had been skeptic about his girlfriend since the first time I got to meet her. However, I changed my attitude when I realized my approach to the situation was making Johnson even more miserable. I started acting like an empathetic listener. This is evidenced by some of the actions that I took. To begin with, I stopped being judgmental and offered to listen to all he had to say. I allowed Johnson to dominate the conversation regardless of what was the topic. I did this by asking simple and short open-ended questions. This gave him the opportunity to vent as much as he wanted and express his feelings. I was being attentive all this while and showed aspects of encouragement as I repeated some of the things he was saying. I ensured that I gave him the feeling that I understood what he was going through.



Worthington, D. & Fitch-Hauser, M. (2015). Listening: Processes, Functions and Competency. New York: Routledge.

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