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Empathic Listening is for Everyone’s Good

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Empathic Listening is for Everyone’s Good

One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People has got to be unpopular with the self-seeking, personal agenda of most of us these days. The habit is number five, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This principle is at the heart of empathic listening. Listening is essential to good communication that lets minds come together for the advancement of all.

The goal for those of us who want to get all we can out of life must include an interdependence with other people. If we think we are going to succeed at business, social life, or whatever without a meeting of minds with those around us, we are on a rough and lonely road. Not only that, when we have real communication going on, it is more likely that we can arrive at a win/win solution that makes everyone happy.

1. Realize our internal scripting. This is best done by getting to know ourselves through a bit of personality study. The four types originally identified by Hippocrates are a good place to start, but there are many other systems of personality theory. Seeking first to understand is complicated by our internal “scripting,” which is that personal perspective with which we approach everything.

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2. Be aware of the four wrong ways to respond and notice when we are doing them. They are probing, evaluating, advising, and interpreting. Probing is asking pointed questions to get the person to reveal more about what’s troubling them. Too often this is associated with one of the other self-centered response styles. For instance, we are just waiting for fuel for an interpretation or judgment we have already made.

3. Be careful about using mimicking techniques used by psychologists. It’s OK to repeat back what you hear someone say, but if you’re not with them emotionally, they will see right through you. A better method is to repeat back in your own words, with the emotional and physical facts included.

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4. Think win/win. When we feel we understand where the other person is coming from and what his or her needs are, we still have the job of making ourselves understood if we are to reach a point of agreement. Covey’s fourth habit is to “Think win/win.” Too often, we approach any sort of relationship communication problems from a competitive win/lose perspective. This attitude can display itself in one of two ways. We can have such a strong desire to win that we don’t care how we run over the other person. Or we can desire to avoid conflict so that we willingly lose.

5. Develop an abundance mentality. Win/win means both parties come out feeling like winners. This is a wonderful positive way to look at life which is closely related to our gut belief that there is enough to go around. Covey calls this the “Abundance Mentality” and contrasts it with a “Scarcity Mentality” which is far more common. Having an abundance mentality means we truly believe that we can win and they can win at the same time because there is plenty of whatever we both want (money, time, etc.) to meet everyone’s needs. A scarcity mentality means we have to fight it out because there won’t be enough for us both.

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Life is enriched by positive relationships with friends and business associates, but all too often we upset the peace because we don’t take the time to listen emphatically. We tend to put our own need to be understood first, but this often results in a breakdown in communication we later regret.

References:
Covey, Stephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

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Littaur, Florence. Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself.

Kiersey, David and Bates, Marilyn. Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types

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Barbara Wood is a writer and educator living with her family in the Missouri Ozarks.

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Last Updated on November 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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