This 'SP Page' is based on Covey, pages 235 to 260. Spend 3.5 hours on this material to successfully meet the module outcomes and requirements.

Reading and writing are both forms of communication. So are speaking and listening. In fact, those are the four basic types of communication. We spend most of our waking lives communicating, but have we ever received training on how to listen and understand deeply? Can we extract the true meaning of what others are saying? Or do we construct our own meaning and twist the messages that are sent our way?

In order to listen effectively, we have to build the skills of empathic listening on a base of character that inspires openness and trust. Additionally, you have to build the Emotional Bank Accounts that create a commerce between hearts (Covey, 1989).

Empathic listening is paying attention to another person with empathy (emotional identification, compassion, feeling, insight). One basic principle is to "seek to understand, before being understood."

Empathic listening...Not just another definition

Empathic listening (also called active listening or reflective listening) is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust. It is an essential skill for third parties and disputants alike, as it enables the listener to receive and accurately interpret the speaker's message, and then provide an appropriate response. The response is an integral part of the listening process and can be critical to the success of a negotiation or mediation. Among its benefits, empathic listening:

  • Builds trust and respect;
  • Enables the disputants to release their emotions;
  • Reduces tensions;
  • Encourages the surfacing of information; and
  • Creates a safe environment that is conducive to collaborative problem solving.
Empathic listening means to listen with the intent to understand. Listen with your ears, your eyes and your heart. Listen for feeling and meaning.

Though useful for everyone involved in a conflict, the ability and willingness to listen with empathy is often what sets the mediator apart from others involved in the conflict.

Make a splash! Diagnose a situation before prescribing a solution. Don't resort to judging right away–seek to understand how full or shallow the pool is first before diving in.

Communication model

We cannot endeavor to listen correctly if we do not understand what happens when we communicate with one another. A basic communication model consists of [at least] five components: sender and receiver; the medium that carries the message; contextual factors; the message itself; and the feedback. To target your message effectively, you need to consider the variables that can affect each of the components in the model.

It may seem daunting to try and block out the noise and echoes of crashing waves in the distance when communicating with others. You may feel overwhelmed by any type of disruption that interferes with the transmission or interpretation of information from you–the sender–to the receiver. There are different types of noise, such as physical noise, psychological noise, semantic noise, and of course, physiological noise.

The Four Autobiographical Responses

If you're like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you're listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating. Do any of the following sound familiar?

"Oh, I know just how you feel. I felt the same way." "I had that same thing happen to me." "Let me tell you what I did in a similar situation."

Because you so often listen autobiographically, you tend to respond in one of four ways:

  1. Evaluating: You judge and then either agree or disagree.
  2. Probing: You ask questions from your own frame of reference.
  3. Advising: You give counsel, advice, and solutions to problems.
  4. Interpreting: You analyze others' motives and behaviors based on your own experiences.

You might be saying, "Hey, now wait a minute. I'm just trying to relate to the person by drawing on my own experiences. Is that so bad?" In some situations, autobiographical responses may be appropriate, such as when another person specifically asks for help from your point of view or when there is already a very high level of trust in the relationship.

Listening empathically

Listen to truly understand and not only to reply:

  • Listen for meaning;
  • Listen for feeling;
  • Listen to affirm;
  • Listen to validate; and
  • Listen to appreciate.

We require certain skills to listen empathically:

  1. Mimic the content to yourself;
  2. Rephrase it in your own words;
  3. Reflect the feeling of what is being meant; and
  4. Rephrase the content and reflect the feeling.

Habit 5 fits into the circle of influence if we have the control to listen empathically to others and deposit into the emotional bank accounts of these people. We can thus empower others and expand our own circles of influence, because once we understand–we may seek to be understood.

In expanding our own circles of influence, we can appeal to either ethos (personal credibility–integrity), pathos (empathic–feeling), and logos (logic–reasoning):

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