When I was working at CoCo, a collaborative work space in Minneapolis, my tablemate John said to me, “I have been an emphatic talker my whole life and now it’s time for me to become an emphatic listener.” The term got me thinking. What does it mean to be an emphatic listener–to listen with emphasis?
Active listening involves repeating what’s been said–as a way to assure the speaker that you’re listening and a way to process the information yourself. To my mind, emphatic listening is how you behave and think while the other person is speaking. It’s how you concentrate on what’s being said.
Here are 5 ways to be an emphatic listener:
1) Don’t judge what others are saying while they are saying it. When you’re having a casual conversation with a friend, it’s easy to slip into judging mode. While they explain something, your internal voice/judge is thinking: yep, nope, maybe, no, absolutely yes. If you’re judging, though, you’re not listening fully. You’re not listening emphatically.
2) Quiet your predictive impulses and stay attuned to the others’ words and meaning. People are prediction machines. Our minds race to the end of what others are saying before they can even complete their thoughts. As a result, we stop listening mid-thought, interrupt mid-sentence and finish the thought for them out loud, or simply finish it in our minds.
3) Find a connection. People are meaning-making machines. We want to understand and draw connections. When we don’t understand something, our brains race to make associations. If we can’t find one, we don’t retain what we’ve heard and become easily distracted. We stop listening. If you can’t find a connection, ask the speaker to pause and help you find one.
4) Put aside your objections. If what is being said makes you uncomfortable or goes against your beliefs or values, don’t stop listening. Listening doesn’t presume agreement. If you listen emphatically, others will listen to you. They will be in a better position to listen to your objections when they’re done speaking.
5) Stay emotionally grounded. Your emotions are like a fog horn over your ability to truly hear what another is saying. To be an emphatic listener, you must silence that emotional noise. Often the most important words are said faintly and they will go missed if your fog horn is sounding.
How are you doing at emphatic listening?