Communication 101 – How to Use Empathy for Better Communication

Stephen Covey in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about how  EMPATHETIC COMMUNICATION is the key to success.



noun: empathy

the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

When we see things from someone else’s perspective and we stop processing what they say through our own thoughts, our own experiences and judgement, we gain an understanding of what it is like to be in their world.

We see what they see.

As the other person talks through their challenges, opportunities or plans, we  uncover resistance by asking carefully worded, open questions:

– What do you mean by….

How does that impact XXX?

How do you feel about that?

Tell me more about…

What does that mean for you?

Explain why…

By asking open questions, we are giving the other person the opportunity to express themselves. The benefits to this are threefold because it:

Allows them to get things clear in their own head

Gives you the information you need

Gives a feeling of being respected and listened to thereby building rapport and a solid relationship.

Check your understanding of what the person is saying by clarifying, summarising, repeating back what you have heard so that you know you have understood correctly;

“OK, so am I right in saying..?”

Now at this point, you might be experiencing some resistance of your own…

“I’m busy, I don’t have time for this!”

“I know what they want/need.”

The value of staying silent in order to listen is fundamental to your success as a communicator.

If you find yourself still experiencing resistance, ask yourself these questions;

“Can I afford not to spend time on this?”

“How can I know what I’m doing if I don’t check that I’ve fully understood the situation?”

“How do I know if things have changed for that person since the last time I were speaking to them ( in the case of an existing work relationship)?”

We don’t know what we don’t know!

So many misunderstandings happen because someone “thought” or worse again, assumed what the situation was.

When we get it right from the start, we position ourselves as effective, efficient communicators who get things done!

By asking the right questions and clarifying what we are hearing, we’re uncovering the person’s resistance &  concerns.

According to Stephen Covey, there are 5 levels of listening:

Ignoring the speaker (not listening, waiting for your turn to speak, already decided what you’re going to say)

Pretending to listen – nodding, doing other things, could not replay what the person said

Selective listening – picking out what’s of interest to you – not getting the overall message

Attentive listening -focussed on the speaker, concentrating on what they have to say => follow up questions

Empathetic listening – focussed on the speaker, listens carefully to the words used, understands the feeling behind those words, recognises the emotions being expressed, talks less, listens more

There is no secret trick to listening – we can’t download it  and we can’t order it from amazon to be delivered the next day!

We can however make a decision…a decision that when we’re with someone, that we give it our ALL.

So now we know the different levels of listening but what about when it is flipped the other way and we’re the ones doing the talking and we want someone to listen to us?

Communication Tips:

  1. Be clear and keep to a steady pace ( avoid speaking too quickly)
  2. Get into the habit of using a structure in your explanations – start, middle, end => summarise!
  3. Keep it simple – Don’t use jargon. 
  4. Get to the point – no tangents  as you can easily lose someone’s interest.
  5. Use visual aids if it is a complex issue (white board/paper) – help your person to understand what you are trying to say.
  6. Use body language and vocal variety – show your passion – inspire them.
  7. Stephen Covey suggests that “We seek to understand, then to be understood!”

So many companies receive feedback that communication is poor, yet how many of us can really say we put an emphasis on seeing things from the other person’s perspective?

Empathetic communication represents a high level connection that is less about Business2Business and more about Human2Human

We move from our side of the table over to their side of the table and from there, we see differently – it is another perspective. It is from this perspective that we really can make an impact when it comes to communicating because we KNOW what WORKS and we know that what we are saying is of real interest to the other person.

Try putting empathy at the heart of your communication strategy and be amazed at the difference it will make to you, your colleagues and your bottom line!


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