Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Empathic Listening Practice

Try "Hearing with
 your heart"

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW


The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/skills/listen_practice.htm

Updated  01-09-2015

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      This brief YouTube video overviews "empathic listening". The video mentions eight lessons in this educational Web site - I've simplified that to seven.:

      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 2 - learn communication basics and seven powerful skills to get more daily needs met more often. Progress with this Lesson depends on simultaneous progress on Lesson 1 - free your resident true Self to guide your personality in calm and conflictual times.

      Doing this practice with an open mind can help you learn more about yourself as a listener - alone, and with special adults and kids. To get the most from this practice...

      Use this practice periodically to help strengthen your ability to “hear with your heart.”


Print two copies of this page, and find a partner who shares your interest in growing communication effectiveness. 

Set aside 1at least 30” for this experience, and find a comfortable, undistracted site.

Confirm that each of you is guided by your wise, resident true Self. If not, invest time in freeing your Selves to lead this practice, for best results.

Sit facing each other, with comfortable eye contact. Remind yourselves that your goals are (a) to become more familiar with empathic listening skill, and (b) to practice giving effective feedback.

Consider tape-recording or videoing your practice to expand your learnings. Another valuable learning option is to map your practice soon after you're done.


      When you both feel ready and clear what you're about to do, alternate these practice-roles of speaker and listener:


  • Pick a safe subject you feel some energy about now.

  • Be you! Forget this is an exercise as much as you can. Talk naturally for 3-5 minutes, expressing your ideas and feelings; then…

  • Use your awareness skill to give your listening partner constructive, specific feedback on:

  • The R(espect)-message you got from them as they listened (“I’m 1-up," “I’m 1-down," or “we’re equal”), and...

  • how you got it (words, voice dynamics, and/or nonverbal behaviors);

  • How clearly you felt (a) heard, (b) understood, and (c) genuinely accepted (vs. judged or ignored) by them - e.g. “On a 1-to-10 scale, I felt...”); Was this "effective communication" for you?

  • What you noticed about (a) any changes in your E(motion)-level as you talked together; and (b) your partner's awareness bubble (1-person, 2-person, or no-person) during the practice; And say.....

  • If you felt interrupted by your partner's restatements of your thoughts and feelings; and...

  • What you liked about her or his listening style - e.g. eye contact, body posture, voice tone, comments, brevity, attitude, focus, timing, ...; and…

  • Anything specific you feel would improve your partner's empathic-listening skill.


Decide to use empathic listening: i.e. consciously choose to put your views, values, and needs aside just now. Recall: listening isn’t (necessarily) agreeing!

Make a silent “Respect check” on how you honestly feel about your partner’s dignity, worth, and needs relative to yours, now - genuine mutual respect, or other. "Other" may indicate a false self controls you.

Give yourself permission to experiment, feel awkward, and take risks here - try something different! The goal is learning, not being perfect!

Use brief verbal insertions (periodically summarizing the speaker’s thoughts, feelings, and needs) vs. interruptions (shifting to your agenda);

Make at least three or four restatements (“insertions”) of your partner's thoughts and feelings as s/he talks (e.g. "You felt / thought / needed / saw... “).  See these examples.

Avoid commenting or questioning the speaker - just restate what you hear, and watch her / his reactions.

Use awareness skill to factually note the speaker's reaction to each of your restatements without judgment - e.g. "Yes, and...,"  or  "No, more like..." Both are win-win.

Notice any inner or outer distractions without judgment. If your partner did something distracting visually or vocally, give them constructive feedback on it.

Hear your partner's feedback without defensiveness - it's a gift! Option: reflect it back, including feelings ("So you feel I could listen better if I maintained steady eye contact.") Ask for clarification or other observations if you need them.

Options: describe...

  • what you did in this practice (specifically) that was different than your usual listening habits,

  • how it felt to try empathic listening, and...

  • what results you got from using it. That’s metatalk!

Identify anything you want to remember from this learning experience. Option: write it down.

When you each feel finished with the first round, change roles and repeat the practice.

Thots / Ideas / Learnings



Learn More

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this practice? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your wise, resident true Self, or ''someone else''?

Learn something about yourself with this 1-question anonymous poll.

This skill-practice  was very helpful   somewhat helpful   not helpful  

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