When we focus on being an active and empathetic listener, relationships improve.

Human beings are complex creatures. We all have our own goals, desires, responsibilities, values, hopes, and dreams; and yet we also interact with and care for others in our lives.

As we interact with others, we don't always agree on what is important or take the time to understand how the other person is feeling. We see situations from our viewpoint and experiences which can result in conflicts and strong emotions. What may have started as a normal conversation can quickly turn into an argument as we try to get our point across, especially when we aren't willing to listen to the other person's input.

Maybe you have recently tried to speak with your parent or a friend about something where you don't see eye to eye.

  • Did the conversation get emotional?
  • Did one of you raise your voice, or say something hurtful?

Sometimes our emotional responses create a whole new issue that is separate from the original topic. Good communication actually decreases as we become more emotional. Without clear communication, both sides are left to try interpreting what is being said. The original topic or issue we wanted to discuss is forgotten. It doesn't have to be this way though. When we focus on being an active and empathetic listener, relationships improve.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

-Stephen Covey

In order to stay on topic, it can be helpful to set some ground rules before discussing a sensitive topic.

  1. If either party starts to become upset, it may be time to take a break to calm down so effective communication can take place.
  2. As one talks about their side of the issue, the other person can calmly ask questions and summarize what they are hearing.
  3. Then reverse roles so that both are able to discuss how they feel, and be an active empathetic listener.

Using these steps to attempt to understand what the other person is saying can prompt them in turn to keep an open mind and listen to your viewpoint. It can take time and practice putting this approach in place, yet it is such worthwhile investment. Give it a try.


Effective Communication - making listening a priority and responding secondary. The more you hear the other person's story, the more you will understand how they feel.

Active Listening - encouraging the other person to keep talking by giving them your full attention.

  • Limit distractions (put away your phone, turn off the tv, refrain from fidgeting)
  • Look at the person (make eye contact) while they are talking
  • Nod to show understanding
  • Keep your own emotions in check so you can fully absorb what the other person is saying
  • Your attentiveness shows the other person that this conversation is important to you

Empathetic Listening - listening with the goal of understanding the feelings of other person.

  • Observe the other person's tone of voice and posture
  • Ask questions to make sure you are understanding correctly (not to change the subject or make your own point)
  • Reflect the other person's feelings. "It seems that you are feeling…"

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