Empathic Listening Rationale
Why Empathic Listening Works
1. The other person sets the pace. You let them take the lead in the conversation. You don’t push them faster than they want to go. This builds trust.
2. Empathic listening creates a relaxed, trusting atmosphere. That’s a rare opportunity. The other person will probably relax and share openly and honestly. When you show that you can be trusted, other people are free to tell you about their hurts, their secrets, and their ambitions. The result – you can really know them
3. The other person gets more self-understanding. In a mirror you can see things about your physical self that cannot otherwise be seen. In the same way, empathic listening serves as a mirror in which people can see their behaviours and attitudes more clearly.
4. To empathically listen is to give something valuable. Empathic listening is hard work so when you listen with empathy, you prove to the other person that you care.
5. It keeps you out of trouble. While you are engaged in empathic listening, you will not do anything that is hurtful to the other person.
6. Empathic listening clarifies the problem and reduces confusion.
7. Empathic listening encourages “connected” communication.
Why this Matters for Teachers
As teachers we are always trying to build trust and rapport with our students and colleagues. A trusting relationship is the foundation upon which knowledge
and learning can be built.
Being able to truly know our students helps us to predict their behaviour and responses to things. This allows us to be more thoughtful and considerate in our practice – if we know that Julia has been in several foster care homes and has a lot of trauma in her past related to familial relationships, we won’t assign work that requires students to dig into their family history or reflect on family values (for example)
We are consistently striving for our students to become better self-monitors and to exercise thoughtful decision making. Empathic listening allows us as teachers to begin helping students better understand themselves, which is critical to the metacognitive processes required to make thoughtful decisions for any person’s self.
We know that many of the students we work with may have gotten themselves out of bed, made their own lunch, and perhaps readied siblings for school. We may be the first people each morning to stop and check in and listen to their concerns and delights. School may be the only place these kids are getting some genuine attention and care. When we use empathic listening we are honouring our students’ lives.
We have all been in the unfortunate situation of putting our own foot in our mouth when we made assumptions about another person’s life. The wrong assumption about why student X is constantly late could seriously damage a relationship. Listening with empathy ensures we have the whole picture before making decisions.
This is especially important when we are debriefing a situation after the fact. If we want to really understand what happened we need to listen for understanding and we need to allow students to express their point of view. Understanding the student’s motivation helps us to ask the right questions and allows us to plan for prevention in the future.
According to William Glasser and Gordon Neufeld, every person wants to feel connected to others. When we connect with our students on a deeper level we are helping them to fill their love and belonging need in a healthy way.