Listening: The Greatest Gift You Can Give

Revisit a simple, foundational technique for practicing empathic listening with those in our personal and professional lives.

During a FuelEd training on empathic listening, one of the participants jokingly walked to the front of the room to participate in a listening demonstration for the other staff present. She started closed off and slightly disengaged, but within two minutes of being heard she said: “I haven’t been listened to like that in years.”

Of all the information and activities FuelEd provides through its trainings and workshops, the most transformative experience for most people is the opportunity to share their truth, to be vulnerable, and to have someone else receive them with genuine care.

Empathy is a big word. It’s often overused and misunderstood. Simply put, empathy is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from their perspective and communicate this understanding. While there are many ways to engage in this powerful act of understanding others, I'd like to share one simple, foundational technique for practicing empathic listening. It is called mirroring.

Mirroring has four parts. When someone comes to you with a willingness and desire to express or share something, the steps are:

  1. Listen carefully and attentively
  2. Imagine their perspective and feelings
  3. Stay out of judgement
  4. Paraphrase their feelings and problems

This kind of listening is liberating. You’re not responsible to make the other person feel better or convince them everything’s alright. You don’t need to interrogate someone so you can jump to the quickest solution to their problem. You don’t need to share that you’ve gone through the same thing or something worse.

You just have to listen.

Mirroring is when we put words to someone’s experience - their problems, needs, feelings beliefs, thoughts or values - to show them we understand. We lack this simple understanding in many areas of our society and our lives, but the absence potentially has the most impact in our schools. In a recent article, a principal reflects on the power of listening as a school leader. “Leaders who listen to their staff without trying to formulate a solution or response at the same time—leaders who just listen—can transform a school’s culture into one of trust, support, and collaboration.”

I encourage you to take two minutes to listen deeply to someone this week and experience how it can bring a new layer of depth and intimacy to your relationships.

About the author

Jasmine Barnes

Partner - Chicago IL

Jasmine studied sociology and journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and has experience in community organizing, event planning, multimedia and group facilitation. She is a passionate storyteller and strategic innovator. Written and verbal communication, collaborative problem solving and operational excellence fuel her desire to create a more just and equitable world where underserved and underrepresented populations have access to resources and holistic education.

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