Listening and empathizing are essential skills when relating to others. Most of us spend 70% of the day communicating, 45% of that time listening. We all want to be listened to (but spouses talk only 10-20 minutes per day). It is insulting to be ignored or neglected. We all know what it means to listen, to really listen. It is more than hearing the words, it is truly understanding and accepting the other person's message and also his/her situation and feelings. Empathy means understanding another person so well that you identify with him/her, you feel like he/she does. The Indians expressed it as: "Walking a mile in another person's moccasins." It is listening so intently and identifying so closely that you experience the other person's situation, thoughts and emotions. Good therapists do this, so do good friends (Berger, 1987). How do good listening and accurate empathy help?


  • It shows you care and that you understood the other person. Thus, people will enjoy talking to you and will open up more.
  • If you have misunderstood, the talker can immediately correct your impressions. You learn more about people.
  • It usually directs the conversation towards important emotional topics.
  • It lets the talker know that you (the listener) accept him/her and will welcome more intimate, personal topics. It invites him/her to tell his/her story and vent his/her feelings.
  • Since it is safe to talk about "deep" subjects, the talker can express feelings and self-explore, carefully considering all his/her deep-seated emotions, the reasons for those feelings and his/her options. Thus, it is therapeutic.
  • It reduces our irritation with others because we understand. To understand is to forgive.
  • It may even reduce our prejudice or negative assumptions about others because we realize we now have a means of finding out what another person is really like. Furthermore, we discover everyone is "understandable."
  • It fosters more meaningful, more helpful, closer friendships.

Empathy is one of the more important skills you will ever acquire. It is amazing how few people do it well.