How to Listen With Empathy—and Why You Should

May 25, 2023

5 min read

How to Listen With Empathy—and Why You Should

Often, people just want to be heard and understood. Empathetic listening is a powerful communication tool that you can use to build trust, foster understanding, and create meaningful relationships. You can learn how to listen with empathy and reap the benefits in your personal and professional relationships.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What it means to listen with empathy
  • Examples of what empathetic listeners say
  • The importance of empathetic listening
  • The framework of empathetic listening
  • How to listen with empathy

What Is Empathetic Listening?

Empathetic listening is a type of listening that goes beyond simply hearing what the other person is saying. It entails trying to understand their thoughts, feelings, and perspective. Empathetic listeners put themselves in the other person’s shoes and see the world from their point of view.

It helps to have a firm grasp on what empathy is in general. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It’s a key component of emotional intelligence and is essential for building strong relationships. Learn more about empathy in general and why it’s important.

Examples of Empathetic Listening

Here are some examples of what an empathetic listener says:

  • “It sounds like you’re feeling really frustrated.”
  • “I think I can understand why you’re upset.”
  • “It must have been really difficult for you.”
  • “I’m here for you if you want to talk.”
  • “Can you tell me more about what happened?”
  • “How can I help?”

The Importance of Empathetic Listening

Empathetic listening is a valuable skill in both personal and professional relationships. Here are some benefits that illustrate the importance of empathetic listening:

  • Builds relationships: When you listen with empathy, you show the other person that you care about them, you understand where they’re coming from, and you’re interested in what they have to say. Empathetic listening allows the listener to gain insight into how the other person feels and think about their experiences, which can help them better understand each other’s perspectives. This builds trust and rapport, which are essential for strong relationships.
  • Provides support: Often, when someone is going through a difficult time, they don’t want advice; they just want someone to listen. Empathetic listening, in particular, can provide them with the support they need. By listening to their thoughts and feelings, you can help them to feel less alone and more supported.
  • Resolves conflict: When you listen with empathy, you can help the other person to feel heard and understood. This can make it easier to resolve conflict, as both parties are more likely to see each other’s perspectives and be willing to compromise.
  • Finds solutions: Empathetic listening requires open minds and allows open communication. This can lead to breakthroughs in understanding and insights to help everyone move forward together.

Overall, empathetic listening is an important communication tool that can be used in any relationship or group setting. By engaging in active dialogue and actively listening without judgment or criticism, both parties can foster understanding and build more meaningful relationships.

The Framework of Empathetic Listening

Empathetic listening is a conversation that goes beyond a casual chat. It works best when it’s within a framework. That way, you make sure you cover all the bases. Here are the four parts of a conversation that entails empathetic listening:

  1. Preparation: If you anticipate such a conversation, you can take just a moment to prepare.
  2. Attentive listening: Pay attention to their words, tone of voice, and body language.
  3. Reflection: Reflect back what they’ve communicated through words, tone, and body language.
  4. Response: Respond to the speaker’s needs.

How to Listen With Empathy

Empathetic listening isn’t always easy. But, it’s a skill that you can develop. The more you do it, the better you’ll become at it. Here’s some advice on how to listen with empathy, organized within the four-part framework of the conversation listed above.


  • Prepare the environment. If you have a chance, find a quiet place to talk and minimize distractions and interruptions. Put your phone on silent and out of sight.
  • Prepare your mind: Take a few deep breaths, and let go of any distracting thoughts. Keep in mind that you want to be fully present and attentive and that your primary purpose is to listen and understand.

Attentive Listening

  • Be present. Give them your full attention.
  • Focus on them: Make eye contact, and let them know that you’re interested in what they have to say and that you care about them and what’s going on.
  • Be patient: It could take time for the speaker to open up and share their thoughts and feelings. Be patient, and let them know that you’re there for them.
  • Pay attention to their words: Listen for their main points and the emotions behind their words.
  • Pay attention to their tone of voice: Their tone of voice can tell you a lot about how they’re feeling.
  • Pay attention to their body language: Their body language also can give you clues about what’s going on. (Learn how to read body language and facial expressions.)
  • Be open-minded. Try to see things from their perspective. Don’t try to fix their problems. Avoid making snap judgments or assumptions about what they’re feeling or thinking.


  • Reflect back what you’ve heard: This is active listening, which helps ensure that they feel heard and that you’ve understood them correctly.
  • Reflect back the speaker’s emotions: This shows them that you understand how they’re feeling.
  • Avoid judgment and criticism. This means not interrupting or offering advice unless they ask you for it. This will help them feel safe and supported.
  • Ask questions. Asking questions, especially clarifying ones, shows that you’re interested in what they have to say and that you’re trying to understand their perspective.


  • Respond to their needs: This might entail offering support, advice, or simply being a sounding board.

Learn how to improve your listening skills in general.

Wrapping Up

Listening with empathy is a gift you can give to others, and you’ll find that everyone comes out ahead. It’s an example of constructive communication that leads to positive results.


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