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Listening with Empathy

I’ve been reading a lot lately about listening and empathy. It’s popping up a lot in the types of articles that I read. I keep reading avidly because I’m in such complete agreement….what is happening to the art of listening? Do we do it well? And what should we be doing better?

I’m delivering a fair few programmes in Mental Health First Aid at the moment, where decent, caring businesses are aiming to equip their workplace with skills and a culture which is encouraging conversation, openness and trust in a bid to make the workplace a better place to be, to help people to be well. The realisation is dawning that we have a responsibility to our people to create this kind of environment.

Often, participants show a keen interest in the detail of mental ill health, wishing to understand a condition, the causes, the symptoms and the treatment. And therein lies the beauty of the course – we cover this kind of thing, but the key message is in the conversation skills we use to support someone – the listening, empathy and the need for doing that without judgment, and without bringing ourselves in to the conversation.

It can be tough. We all judge – it’s a survival skill – and we can’t help but filter what we’re hearing based on our own experiences. And, admittedly, if we’re going to empathise, we have to tap into something inside ourselves that helps us to make sense of what is being described to us. But there are ways to listen and empathise and make it sound like we’re doing so.

Watch Brene Brown’s clip on this – 3 minutes well-spent. You’ll soon refresh how you actively show that you’re there for someone.

And read Celeste Headlee’s article – this will make you sit up and review how you are responding to people when they open up a chat about themselves!

And why is all of this important? Listening can be done easily. If we’re aware that we can improve on it, if we practise, then it really can be done painlessly. And when we do it, it makes an actual difference. A person feels valued, heard, seen. And they take that feeling forward, and it can make a difference to what they do next.

As business leaders, as line managers, as colleagues, friends, partners, this is relevant. But we have to practise, and we’ll get it wrong sometimes, but then we try again. The more we do, the better we’ll get. And then we’ll have an easy skill that helps anyone we listen to.

I like that this is a key element of Mental Health First Aid courses and I love to bring it in to other programmes too, any course that helps managers, leaders, people to work better with each other. Let’s just stop and listen. It’s not new, but it could be exciting.

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