Seek First to Understand – Empathic Listening

Below are 10 suggestions to becoming an empathic listener. Please share your thoughts on the validity of these statements and/or tell us why cultivating the habit of seeking first to understand requires so much effort to master.

1. Practice saying “take your time, I’m listening” and really mean it.
2. Set aside your own agenda.
3. Be available and receptive emotionally as well as through body language.
4. Try to appreciate the other person’s point of view.
5. Listen without being in a hurry to take over.
6. Try to imagine yourself in the other’s place: feel what the speaker feels.
7. Help draw out thought and feeling by asking questions.
8. Have the speaker elaborate for further understanding.
9. Say “Let me make sure I understand” and then restate the issue.
10. Be sensitive to the speaker’s feelings.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood, is a social principle which can be applied in various situations while in dialogue with others. As we mature in this practice our ability to communicate is enhanced and our relationships are deepened. We attain more clarity and understanding of the content, as well as the other person or persons.

We all know what it is like when someone is genuinely interested in hearing what we have to say in a spirit of cooperation and fellowship. We feel that our point of view is validated and that our opinions actually matter. This in turn enables a degree of trust, a quality of comfort by which we can freely speak our minds and demonstrate our personal truth without the fear of condemnation.

Often we emphasize on the delivery of communication, yet listening is just as crucial and requires much work. Dialogue needs to flow both ways in order for it to be effective and meaningful. But not just any kind of listening will suffice. Attentive listening and selective listening certainly have their place in acquiring information. Whereas deep authentic dialogue, that which is conducive to vibrant relationships, requires empathic listening.

Empathic listening allows one to enter more fully into another’s frame of reference. It requires a degree of courage & sacrifice to entertain an idea from someone else’s point of view, especially if it goes against our own beliefs, and in so doing we take the risk of having to rethink our own thoughts on the matter. By seeing things from alternative perspectives, we may come to recognize our own short-sightedness and by consequence have to change our stance. Regardless of the vulnerable position we put ourselves in through empathic listening, the very act can alter and transform the relationship itself, enabling both parties to better relate with one another and to genuinely seek solutions that are mutually beneficial.

Love & light,



About Philosopher Muse

An explorer of volition and soul, a song under a night sky and a dream that forever yearns to be.
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2 Responses to Seek First to Understand – Empathic Listening

  1. Dear Jason
    Thank you for addressing this important perspective so nicely and for asking us to share our own perspectives and understanding.

    A friend of mine once said “Every person is like a unique universe full of exiting things to discover”. This made an impact on me as a young man. It made me enter into any new contact with the potential to discover something new with every person. I like that attitude when trying to understand others.

    From a holonistic point of view, the perspective of a bigger unit or group of people is moving up one holon to the level that transcends the individual and makes us peers, a family, a group, a neighbourhood or a tribe. Here focus changes to the benefit of The All, the bigger holon so that each part cooperates smoothly and integrates into a coherence with the bigger holon. As we learn to appreciate that level of perspective, communication changes from exchange of ideas, thoughts or points of view to encouragement and mutual respect and a feeling of fraternity and care.

    Another perspective I like is the idea of singularity or unity. I like to stick to the axiom that everything is one and our aim is to re-unity with Unity in the Uni-verse. We should start with our close circles of family, friends and society.

    I also like the conclusion that if all is united it is nothing (no space, no time, no differentiation in unity) I wrote about the nothing in different traditions here:
    From that perspective we would like to silence any noise in our lives and open up to the bigger void. This also encourages listening both inwards and outwards.

    You can surely recognise the two last points with parts of Plato´s Parmenides dialog second part 😉

    Thank you for a nice initiative my friend.

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