By Ximena Vengoechea | The Muse
When it comes to improving communication in the workplace, you may have learned how to give better presentations, more clearly articulate your ideas, and even influence others through better pitches, decks, and speeches. But you might not have focused as much on honing the other side of the equation: listening skills.
Becoming a better listener comes with real advantages in the workplace. Effective listening helps you to understand others better, allowing you to get your work done on time. It enables you to improve partnerships with your peers and thereby collaborate more effectively. It can even help you shift the balance of your relationship with your manager from head-scratching (What did their feedback mean?) to aligned.
And there’s one type of listening that deserves extra attention for its quietly powerful impact on your career: empathetic listening.
What Is Empathetic Listening?
At its core, empathetic listening is about connection. Empathetic listening is what happens when you deliberately slow things down and seek to understand others’ inner worlds. It means taking in what another person is saying—or not saying—with the intent to understand and relate to them on a human level.
It’s similar to its counterpart, active listening, in that both kinds of listening require giving your full attention to another person in order to better understand them. But unlike active listening, empathetic listening puts a special emphasis on understanding the other person’s emotional experience. Where active listening may readily result in a list of action items, empathetic listening is focused on a stronger connection among teammates and a clearer understanding of another person’s needs, motivations, and perceptions. (Sure, this information can also help you get to a better to-do list or set of action items, but these would be the byproducts of building a stronger relationship with someone, rather than the first-level goal.)
Empathetic listening asks you to go beyond the surface of what is being said to unpack why and how it’s being said and get to know someone’s emotional experience—and empathize with it. This kind of listening goes beyond the literal, and even beyond the subtext of what’s been said, to the emotion beneath it.
Through empathetic listening, you can create a space in which others feel safe being themselves, laying the foundation for open and honest communication between both the speaker and the listener.