Stephen Covey‘s concept of empathic listening involves many of the topics we’ve explored the past several weeks.

We began with Brene Brown’s insight that empathy is different from sympathy, in the 8th Habit, Stephen observes sympathy is often a form of judgment.  People feed on sympathy.  It makes them dependent.

Empathy, in contrast, involves both parties looking at the problem, issue, or feeling.  We are on the same side of the table, writes Stephen, instead of being on opposite sides looking at each other.  

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.  It’s a relationship between equals.” Pema Chodron says.

Next, we explored the different types of empathy and how we can utilize them to create deeper “rhythms of relating.”

Stephen suggests there are several key insights we can adopt to create richer conversations.

First, set aside our autobiography and desire to give advice.

Next, listen for the feelings underneath what is being said.  When we sense emotion, go back to empathetic listening.  If the other person’s responses are logical and factual, we can effectively ask questions and give counsel. 

Sometimes words just get in the way.  It isn’t always necessary to talk in order to empathize.  Simply saying, “Oh” … “Mmm” … or “I see” coupled with a caring attitude become invitations for the other person to explore their thoughts and feelings.  

Most importantly, empathetic listening skills will not be effective unless they come from a sincere desire to understand.

Finally, empathetic listening takes time.  But, going back to correct misunderstandings and rebuild connection takes far more time.  Yet another example of how to go slow to go fast.   


ReflectionWhen have I listened empathically in the past?  What was the result?

Action: Experiment with listening for the feelings underneath the content.

What did you think of this post?

Write A Comment