What is the role of empathy in listening and perspective taking?


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Charlie Gilbert Profile
Charlie Gilbert answered
Empathy is a platform for effective understanding, communication and relationships. It is essential when listening to a complaint, or developing a different perspective. Of all the communication skills, listening is arguably the one which makes the biggest difference. Listening does not come naturally to a lot of people, and it needs to be worked on in order for the skill to be developed. Mostly, people don't listen - they just take turns to speak - we all tend to be more interested in announcing our own views and experiences than really listening and understanding others. This is where the role of empathy comes in.

There are various different levels of listening. These include passive, pretend, biased, misunderstood, attentive, active and empathic listening. Empathic listening (listening with empathy) is listening with full attention to sounds and all other relevant signals, including:
- tone of voice
- other verbal aspects - e.g., pace, volume, breathlessness, flow, style, emphasis
- facial expression
- body language
- cultural or ethnic or other aspects of the person which would affect the way their communications and signals are affecting you
- feeling - not contained in a single sense - this requires you to have an overall collective appreciation through all relevant senses (taste is perhaps the only sense not employed here) of how the other person is feeling
- you able to see and feel the situation from the other person's position

You are also reacting and giving feedback and checking understanding with the speaker. You will be summarising and probably taking notes and agreeing the notes if it's an important discussion. You will be honest in expressing disagreement but at the same time expressing genuine understanding, which hopefully (if your listening empathy is of a good standard) will keep emotions civilized and emotionally under control even for very difficult discussions.

These skills used in listening empathically are used directly in perspective talking (trying to understand how the content of the situation looks in the other person's view.) Empathy must be conveyed towards one's conflict partner, which requires the person to 'get into the shoes' and more importantly 'get into the heart and soul' of the other person.
Amanda Wells Profile
Amanda Wells answered
Without empathy it is hard to listen effectively and almost impossible to understand another person's perspective. Empathy is the means by which we understand emotions, beliefs, priorities etc which are not our own. When listening to another person we need empathy in order to appreciate his or her point of view, otherwise we will hear the facts but have no understanding of the person's motives or needs.

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