Empathic Listening – It’s Not About the Nail



When we communicate with each other, most of the time we listen in order to respond. We’re thinking about what we’ll say next, right? Instead of intently focusing on what is being said in order to understand.

Empathic listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust.

This is greatly beneficial in marriages and relationships, as well as in the workplace. Through this form of deep listening, we are not only hearing the words spoken by another person but are seeking their deeper meaning through body language, tone and contextual understanding. We are opening ourselves to a better understanding of the other person through their perspective, instead of filtering their words through our own script (the way we see the world based on our own experiences). When we understand another person on this level we are able to resolve conflict and meet each other’s needs through finding a win/win solution at a much higher rate. Empathy is the path to peace and community living.

As with any new habit, developing a natural way of empathic listening takes time and a lot of practice.

Watch the exchange between the couple in the following video. The woman is trying to convey to her husband how she feels and all the husband can see is the nail in her head. Like most of us guys, he’s trying to fix her problem by pointing out the obvious, while entirely missing the point.

Does this kind of exchange look familiar? Take a few minutes to consider these questions:

  1. How can empathic listening help this poor guy understand what his wife is trying to say to him?
  2. How does the husband’s focus on the nail (clearly missing the point) make his wife feel?
  3. In what ways do we do the same thing? In our own personal conversations, do we seek to truly understand what the other person is saying?

Empathic listening can lead to richer relationships built on respect and trust. When we listen in order to understand rather than respond, we are taking the first step toward expressing the kind of love we are admonished to give through the scriptures, by putting the other person’s needs ahead of our own.

And in this world of conflict and division, we can all certainly benefit from a little more understanding, no?


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