Empathetic Listening

Graduate school has started with a bang. Orientation has come and gone. Classes have begun in earnest and our collective journey of learning has begun to take shape.

There are ten of us. From vastly differing backgrounds we have come together to develop as human beings as well as educators. The incredible diversity of personal experience has led to a rich and challenging learning environment that I am sure will yield much fruit.

A key component to collective learning is the idea of empathetic listening. It is a skill that demands continual practice. It is a skill many believe they have, but few truly obtain.

To empathetically listen we must first be wholly present. Chuang-Tzu put it well

The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.” 

Creating emptiness of faculties is far easier said than done.

Listening empathetically demands nothing but you. The past matters not, and neither does the future. Only your presence in the here and now is required. Maintaining this presence is a struggle. It is this struggle that demands our constant attention.

Success in this endeavour yields the positive connections that underpin our interactions, and thus the experiences that shape us as human beings.

It is hard to remember a time that have I returned home at the end of the day feeling so enriched, challenged and mentally fatigued as I have following each day of this previous week. It’s a magnificent feeling.

Listening empathetically is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give to others. When speaking with another today, try only to be there. Don’t think of the next thing you’d like to say. Don’t offer advice. Don’t one-up or educate. Don’t console, tell a story or shut down the line of communication. Don’t sympathize or interrogate. Don’t correct or explain. Simply listen with your whole being and respond spontaneously.

A large debt of gratitude for this post needs be paid to Marshall Rosenburg. The ideas herein are generated largely from his fantastic book NonViolent Communication: A Language of Life.





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