How many times have you said, " I am a good listener"? I would guess like me, many times. But do you truly know what a good listener is? Steven Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People states it is important to seek first to understand, then to be understood (2004). Easier said than done right? Being humans, we are born to communicate, verbally and non-verbally. As children we use our actions to relay our wants and needs. As we mature, we learn to speak, read, and write. Undoubtedly, communication is an essential and important ability. But, in my opinion, is often viewed as a linear event. For communication to be successful, there must be a sender and a receiver. As a receiver, our responsibilities are to receive and decode the message to discern its meaning and importance. This is the stage of the communication process where the disconnect typically happens. We are in a hurry to get our point across, to be understood, give little regard to our partner in the communication, pretend to listen, and are thinking of a response. Hence, we miss the chance to understand the meaning of the message and devalue the other person.
To truly understand, it is important to practice empathetic listening. "Earn the right to be heard by listening to others. Seek to understand before making judgments about it" (John Maxwell, 2008). Empathetic listening is defined as "a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust" (Saetre, 201). How do you become a better listener?
• Be present, maintain eye contact, give the speaker your undivided attention.
• Pay attention to body language.
• Be nonjudgmental.
• Be quiet, allow silences.
• Paraphrase, repeat, and clarify.
• Refrain from solutions.
• Ask open ended questions and be respectful (Ohlin, 2016).
It has been my experience that empathetic listening allows you to acknowledge the speaker, which shows you value them. In turn, establishing value positively impacts their self esteem, confidence, self worth, and reduces stress and tension. Further, empathetic listening positively influences teamwork, productivity, elicits openness, and encourages the sharing of ideas and thoughts.
Leadership begins with taking care of and showing value to your people. Empathetic listening is one of many skills that will aid you in developing a stewardship style of leadership.
Covey, S. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York: Free Press
Maxwell, J. (2008). Communication-A leaders key to success. Retrieved from
Ohlin, B. (2016). Active listening: The art of empathetic conversation. Retrieved from
Saetre, N. A. (2014, June 14). What is empathetic listening. Retrieved from