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Do You Listen Autobiographically or Empathetically?

Awareness| Listening
December 16, 20223 min read

“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.”

- Stephen R. Covey

Isn’t it wonderful when someone really hears you? When they hear your words and your feelings? Doesn’t it feel great when the conversation doesn’t become about the other person when you’re sharing? 

As human beings, we want so badly to connect with others. We also seek to understand by pulling from our own experience and framework. With that in mind, empathetic listening and hearing someone else’s perspective can be challenging. 

What is empathetic listening? Empathetic listening is the practice of being attentive and responsive to others' input during conversation. When you listen with empathy, you connect emotionally with the other person. We automatically look for similarities between their experience and yours so you can respond with more heart.

The catch is, how do you respond with more heart without making the conversation about you and taking it away from them? 

When we start talking about ourselves, our experience, and giving advice, we have gone from listening empathetically to listening autobiographically. 

How do we stay out of our personal narrative by listening autobiographically?

  1. Self-awareness. Every time you start thinking about yourself and what this means for you, bring your attention back to the other person.

  2. Stay out of judgment. Do you recognize when someone is judging what you say? I do! And I personally don’t like it at all. The bottom line is that we cannot listen empathetically when we are judging. Most importantly, when we judge others we cannot show empathy and we cannot influence. 

  3. Use empathetic statements and then listen! Do not make autobiographical comments.

Empathetic statements, followed by listening:

  • “I can only imagine”

  • “I hear what you’re saying”

  • “That sounds really hard/frustrating/confusing…”

Autobiographical comments

  • “I totally know what you mean…I had something happen to me like that….”

  • “OMG, I can’t stand it when someone does that. You know when that happened to me…”

  • “At least you can/have…” This is a tricky one because “at least” is trying to make the person see what is positive but it totally negates their need to be heard. 

  1. Ask what they would like from you. “Do you want me to listen or share what I would do from my perspective?”

  2. Thank them for sharing. “Thank you for sharing with me. I’m here for you.” 

Your experience is important and can make an impact when others want to hear it. When mentoring, when they ask for your opinion, or when you ask if you can share your experience and they say yes - that’s when you can bring in your personal narrative. The key is to be listening empathetically to know that your story will resonate and not just you talking. 

This practice will strengthen every relationship and connection, which is what we all ultimately want!  

“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.”

 - Carl Rogers 

Kim Zoller

Back to Blog

Do You Listen Autobiographically or Empathetically?

Awareness| Listening
December 16, 20223 min read

“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.”

- Stephen R. Covey

Isn’t it wonderful when someone really hears you? When they hear your words and your feelings? Doesn’t it feel great when the conversation doesn’t become about the other person when you’re sharing? 

As human beings, we want so badly to connect with others. We also seek to understand by pulling from our own experience and framework. With that in mind, empathetic listening and hearing someone else’s perspective can be challenging. 

What is empathetic listening? Empathetic listening is the practice of being attentive and responsive to others' input during conversation. When you listen with empathy, you connect emotionally with the other person. We automatically look for similarities between their experience and yours so you can respond with more heart.

The catch is, how do you respond with more heart without making the conversation about you and taking it away from them? 

When we start talking about ourselves, our experience, and giving advice, we have gone from listening empathetically to listening autobiographically. 

How do we stay out of our personal narrative by listening autobiographically?

  1. Self-awareness. Every time you start thinking about yourself and what this means for you, bring your attention back to the other person.

  2. Stay out of judgment. Do you recognize when someone is judging what you say? I do! And I personally don’t like it at all. The bottom line is that we cannot listen empathetically when we are judging. Most importantly, when we judge others we cannot show empathy and we cannot influence. 

  3. Use empathetic statements and then listen! Do not make autobiographical comments.

Empathetic statements, followed by listening:

  • “I can only imagine”

  • “I hear what you’re saying”

  • “That sounds really hard/frustrating/confusing…”

Autobiographical comments

  • “I totally know what you mean…I had something happen to me like that….”

  • “OMG, I can’t stand it when someone does that. You know when that happened to me…”

  • “At least you can/have…” This is a tricky one because “at least” is trying to make the person see what is positive but it totally negates their need to be heard. 

  1. Ask what they would like from you. “Do you want me to listen or share what I would do from my perspective?”

  2. Thank them for sharing. “Thank you for sharing with me. I’m here for you.” 

Your experience is important and can make an impact when others want to hear it. When mentoring, when they ask for your opinion, or when you ask if you can share your experience and they say yes - that’s when you can bring in your personal narrative. The key is to be listening empathetically to know that your story will resonate and not just you talking. 

This practice will strengthen every relationship and connection, which is what we all ultimately want!  

“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.”

 - Carl Rogers 

Kim Zoller

Back to Blog

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