A good listener looks the talker in the eye, nods at and leans
towards the speaker, encourages the talker with smiles and "uh-huh,"
carefully avoids distractions and the other barriers mentioned above,
remains earnestly interested in understanding the talker and freely
shares his/her own opinions and experiences when it is his/her turn to
STEP TWO: Understand what is involved in empathy responding.
A good listener must respond, letting the talker know he/she was
understood. This responding is empathy. It is even more complex than
listening; no one is perfect. You don't have to be perfect, but the more
accurate an empathizer you can become, the better. Often, when we
are upset, we want to express and share our feelings with an
understanding person. So, the good empathizer focuses on the talker's
feelings, not on his/her actions or circumstances. Example: when
talking with someone who has just been left by a lover, don't ask
"What did he/she say?" or "When did you first suspect?" but instead
attend to and reflect the feelings, "It really hurts" or "You feel
abandoned and lost." This focus on feelings encourages the talker to
explore the core of the problem--his/her emotions. When we are
upset, we need to work through and handle our feelings before we can
concentrate on solving the problems.
It is easy to see how the barriers to listening lead to poor empathy
responses. The following scale will illustrate poor empathy responses
and good ones (good responses include accurate reflection of what the
talker just said and tentative comments that help the talker
understand him/herself). You must have a clear conception of empathy
before you can effectively use it, so study this scale well.
Levels of empathy responding
Level 1.0: Inaccurate reflection or distracting comments.
Changing-the-topic responses--a friend is complaining
about a school assignment and you say, "There was a
good movie on channel 3 last night."
"I know better than you" response--these are god-like
pronouncements, such as "There's nothing wrong with
you. You'll feel better tomorrow" or "The real problem is
that your mother spoiled you" or "You are so in love,
you can't see what a jerk he is."
Judgmental responses--a person tells you they had
several beers last night and you say, "I hope you didn't
drive afterwards--you could kill someone." (This may be
a responsible reaction but it isn't empathic.)
Advising response--a 35-year-old tells you they are
scared to go back to school and you immediately tell