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How to Be an Empathic Listener

"There comes a time in the spiritual journey when you start making choices from a very different place. . . And if a choice lines up so that it supports truth, health, happiness, wisdom, and love, it's the right choice."
--Angeles Arrien

I recently spoke with the HR Director of a San Francisco Bay Area company regarding providing executive coaching for the company CEO and other leaders. She asked some very insightful questions to determine fit. She wanted to know how I worked with different personality styles, and my methods for initiating change in thinking and behavior.

The HR Director and I spoke about my approach to coaching, and my belief that possessing a psychological understanding of human behavior based on neuroscience and business acumen are important competencies for coaching executives. We also spoke of the need for her organization to create a high involvement culture where innovation and creativity flourishes.

The HR Director is interested in collaborating with me to help senior executives improve their listening skills, and get the most out of their executive coaching programs. We further discussed how company leaders could benefit by working with an executive development expert and emotional intelligence-based executive coach.

"If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is.  If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there's room to hear more subtle things - that's when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It's a discipline; you have to practice it." - Steve Jobs

When I was working with a senior executive at a silicon Valley high tech company my client said to me, “I have been an emphatic talker my whole life and now it’s time for me to become an emphatic listener.” The term got me thinking. What does it mean to be an emphatic listener–to listen with mindfulness?

Active listening involves repeating what’s been said–as a way to assure the speaker that you’re listening and a way to process the information yourself. To my mind, emphatic listening is how you behave and think while the other person is speaking. It’s how you concentrate on what’s being said.

Here are 5 ways to be an emphatic listener:

1) Don’t judge what others are saying while they are saying it. When you’re having a casual conversation with a friend, it’s easy to slip into judging mode. While they explain something, your internal voice/judge is thinking: yep, nope, maybe, no, absolutely yes. If you’re judging, though, you’re not listening fully. You’re not listening emphatically.

2) Quiet your predictive impulses and stay attuned to the others’ words and meaning. People are prediction machines. Our minds race to the end of what others are saying before they can even complete their thoughts. As a result, we stop listening mid-thought, interrupt mid-sentence and finish the thought for them out loud, or simply finish it in our minds.

3) Find a connection. People are meaning-making machines. We want to understand and draw connections. When we don’t understand something, our brains race to make associations. If we can’t find one, we don’t retain what we’ve heard and become easily distracted. We stop listening. If you can’t find a connection, ask the speaker to pause and help you find one.

4) Set aside your objections. If what is being said makes you uncomfortable or goes against your beliefs or values, don’t stop listening. Listening doesn’t presume agreement. If you listen emphatically, others will listen to you. They will be in a better position to listen to your objections when they’re done speaking.

5) Stay emotionally grounded.Your emotions are like a fog horn over your ability to truly hear what another is saying. To be an emphatic listener, you must silence that emotional noise. Often the most important words are said faintly and they will go missed if your fog horn is sounding.

How are you doing at emphatic listening?

"In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel 'burnout' setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective." – Dalai Lama

Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to grow emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to improve their listening skills? Mindful leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to connect with their people.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I an empathetic listener?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their transformational high performance leadership development program.

Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area Executive Coaching Firm Helping Innovative Companies and Law Firms Assess, Select, Coach, Engage  and Retain Emotionally Intelligent Leaders; Executive Coaching; Leadership Development; Performance-Based Interviewing; Competency Modeling; Succession Management; Culture Change; Career Coaching and Leadership Retreats

...About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach
Trusted Advisor to Senior Leadership Teams

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies select and develop emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

“Maynard Brusman is one of the foremost coaches in the United States. He utilizes a wide variety of assessments in his work with senior executives and upper level managers, and is adept at helping his clients both develop higher levels of emotional intelligence and achieve breakthrough business results. As a senior leader in the executive coaching field, Dr. Brusman brings an exceptional level of wisdom, energy, and creativity to his work.” — Jeffrey E. Auerbach, Ph.D., President, College of Executive Coaching

For more information, please go to, write to, or call 415-546-1252.

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