Many people spend over 60% of their daily activities communicating and about 40% of that time listening. Therefore, listening and empathy are vital skills we require in order to communicate with others.
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We all desire to be listened to and someone feels insulted when no one pays attention to what we say. Empathy implies the ability to understand another person in a way that you are able to identify and discern his/her feelings. Therefore, a good friend must posses these attributes.
Good listening and empathy demonstrate that you care and understand the other person. In fact, people will be more comfortable to share their personal feelings with you. How can you learn to be a good listener as well as be empathetic? There are several steps involved:
First of all, you need to learn how to be a good and active listener. Listening is a form of art and demands that we develop an interest to know what the other person is saying.
It also means that we shun the many frequent obstacles to effective listening, for example; attempting to read the mind of the speaker, comparing your experience to the speaker, preparing on the type of response to give next, believing that you are always right hence no need to listen, appeasing the talker by agreeing with everything he/she says and changing the topic in a hastily manner. As a result of these obstacles, we are only able to remember about 60% of what the speaker says.
It is not easy to listen because our concentration threshold is about 16 minutes. Nonetheless, a good listener irrespective of the distractions always gets back on track and makes inquiries to understand what is being said. A good listener must avoid parochial opinions, prejudices and assuming defensive positions.
In addition, a good listener pays close attention to the body language and facial expressions of the speaker. His/her looks maintain eye contact with the speaker and nods on regular basis to encourage the speaker share his/her personal experiences freely.
Second, a good listener understands what empathy responding entails. He/she must respond to let the speaker know that he/she was understood. Usually, when we are offended, we want to articulate and share our feelings with an empathic person. Therefore, a good empathizer concentrates on the speakers’ feelings and not on his/her situation.
For instance, when listening to a friend who has just been dumped by his/her lover, do not ask “how did he/she say it?” but rather, focus on his/her feelings “you feel dumped and lost”. By doing this, the speaker will be encouraged to investigate the gist of the problem. An empathetic listener helps the speaker to handle his/her feelings before laying focus on how to solve the problem.
There are different levels of empathy responding. Making distracting comments is one of them. For example, a friend is protesting about racial discrimination at school and you say “the party I attended last night was marvelous!” Many people are guilty of un-empathetic responses.
Most of us are constant questioners and instant reassures. In some cases, we view our friend’s problems as intellectual challenges hence we dispose the problem in a short time and without giving it much thought. It is important to note that it takes time and good listening skills to be able to understand what your friend is saying.
A good listener is empathic because he/she takes time to understand what the speaker is saying. He keeps eye contacts and leans towards the speaker to assure him/her undivided attention. Finally, a good listener is neither judgmental nor prejudice. He/she focuses on what the speaker is saying and encourages him to freely share his problems.