We all listen, but there is a big difference between receiving information, and actually understanding what is being said. For many of us our main focus whilst listening is to pick up clues to respond to.

This is not necessarily wrong, but the difference is our intention in listening. Are we listening to hear and understand what the other person is saying, or are we listening only in order to refine our point of view.

As an example, we might have conflicting points of view that end up in an argument. We then listen to the other person’s point of view only to pick up clues to use as ammunition for our own verbal gun. We fire back at the other person with an even stronger version of our point of view, as our only aim is to win the argument.

Not once have we actually tried to hear their perspective or point of view. All we want is to have them accept our point of view. It is not to say that their point of view is even wrong, but our goal is to have our argument accepted as the correct one.

Even in a general conversation, where somebody is telling a story about themselves, we often don’t really listen. We might listen to pick up verbal clues in order to correct them, give advice, or tell them our story. Again, this is not necessarily wrong, but the missing element in both of these communication scenarios is that we have not heard and considered the other person’s point of view.

We have not tried to see their perspective by looking through their eyes. The outcome of the conversation may be exactly the same, but the difference is that the other person’s perspective has been considered, and they feel heard. This is called empathetic listening.

Empathy has been described as “The ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand her emotions and feelings.” Alvin Goldman. Greater empathy gives you greater information, and the more information you have on something, the more likely you are to understand it. So, how can we be more empathetic in our listening?

Instead of the usual Listen-React process, I would suggest the following:

Listen(Receive Info) - Hear(Clarify Info)- Understand(Identify with Info)- Respond


• Focus on the other person’s thoughts and words. Put your own thoughts aside for now. (It takes more concentration to hold your own thoughts whilst listening, but with practice you can become skilled at it.)
• Don’t interrupt. This is a good communication practice and a sign of respect for their point of view.
• Let the other person finish talking. A pause might mean they are taking a breath, not that they are finished. If necessary, ask, “I really want to understand your perspective, anything else?”


• Ask them to repeat any info that you did not hear fully. “Please can you repeat what you said about ….. .”
• Clarify any points that are not clear to you. “What I am hearing you say is ……. Is that correct?”
• Summarise what you have heard “So what you are saying then is that because of ……. and …… and …… , that is why you would prefer to …….”


Having fully heard what they have said and why they have said it, you are now standing in their shoes seeing through their perspective. This may completely change how you would have seen their point of view and/or responded to it. (It may not, but now you know for sure.)


“Now I understand why you and I see so differently on this point. You are coming at it from ….. perspective, whereas I am seeing it from …… perspective. In fact, I fully agree with what you have to say. I am going to have to re-think my point of view.”

Unless we actually see the other person’s point of view, as opposed to what we think their point of view is, based on how we received and perceived their info, our response could be entirely inappropriate.

Empathetic (or active listening as it is also called), is key to effective human interaction and relationships.

For leaders, employees perform best when they feel that their opinions are heard, understood and valued.

Author's Bio: 

Claude Warner coaches successful leaders to improve their leadership performance through developing their emotional, relational, social and communication skills. He can be contacted on +27 (0)83 227 5153, info@claudewarner.com or www.claudewarner.com