Fine Tuning Empathy and the Art of Listening

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by Melinda Fouts, Ph.D., Global Executive Coach

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”  ~ Aristotle

While contemplating on the quote above, I would have to say that Aristotle was addressing a major component of emotional intelligence, empathy.  To educate the heart, I believe, it means learning to listen from the heart. Listening from the heart can open us up to be more fully present for the other person, and empathy can blossom. It is in this practice that we are educating the heart and developing the ability to become aware of how others are feeling.   

Why is this important? When coaching, the complaint I hear the most is that the person does not feel heard. It is worth repeating.  They do not feel heard.  We are in the realm of feelings, and what I have learned over 20 years, more than fixing an issue, people need to feel heard.  How do we learn to listen from the heart? How does the other person know they are being heard? Can you cultivate empathy if it is not in your nature?  Before delving into these questions, let’s explore the components of empathy.

Research is showing that malpractice suits will decrease if empathy increases. Click To Tweet

We all know the definition of empathy yet I feel compelled to state it so that there is no misunderstanding.  Empathy is a noun and is defined by the ability to understand, recognize, and appreciate the way others are feeling even if it is different than what you are feeling.  Being empathic makes you more approachable because you show sensitivity to how others are feeling.

  • How do you know if you have an empathic nature?
  • How is empathy different than sympathy?
  • Is there a way to show empathy and put it into action thus making it a verb rather than a noun?

The field that is receiving quite a bit of publicity on empathy is the medical profession.  Research is showing that malpractice suits will decrease if empathy increases. John Butler, MD. consultant for clinicians wrote, “Statistics show that clinicians who are outwardly caring and who spend a little more time than peers do communicating with patients are sued less often for malpractice.” Knowing if you are empathic and finding a way to show it is crucial for improving relationships in any profession.

What, then, does it take to show empathy? What action is needed to make empathy a verb?  Here are some questions to ask to assess your empathy:

  • Are you aware how others are feeling?
  • Do you try to avoid hurting the feelings of others?
  • Do you respect the way others feel or do you put them down or tease them?
  • Do you care about the feelings of others?

Does the display of strong emotions bother you or do understand and appreciate what they are experiencing?

Are you sensitive to the way others feel?

Do you understand how others are feeling or are you oblivious?

Are there times you are not sensitive to someone’s feelings? If so, what prevents your from being sensitive?

Empathy is about awareness, caring, understanding, respecting, and being sensitive to the feelings of others.  Turning these into action is the ability to reflect what you heard using the same adjectives that the person used.  This is easier said than done, because most people think that when they reflect back what they heard the person saying, they think they are agreeing with the person.  Taking the EQi – 2.0 assessment can let you know whether empathy is a strength of yours or if it needs strengthening.  For a nominal fee, the EQi – 2.0 assessment  shows how you score on empathy and 14 other components of emotional intelligence.  If interested, email me at:  sswy_logo_TEAL_RGB

Author Bio

Melinda brings to the coaching world her 20 years of experience as a psychotherapist.  She leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in all aspects of being successful. Owner and founder of Success Starts with You, is based upon the premise that you are already successful.  Increasing self-awareness to increase emotional intelligence and unlocking blind spots are paramount to continued success.  Melinda uses assessments to help bring more awareness and identify what areas need development. She is certified to administer the EQi – 2.0, the MBTI, and a variety of leadership assessments.  Whether you are a leader or manager in transition, need a thought partner, need to improve your professional presence, or want to perform at your fullest potential, Melinda has developed unique and innovative techniques from her background to help you reach higher heights. Global coaching has broadened the range of coaching through the phone and Skype.  Melinda is assessable wherever you reside. Her mission statement: “My ultimate goal is to help an individual have more inner peace. When that happens, we can then have more peace in the world.”

Melinda received her Ph.D. in Jungian Psychology from Saybrook University and her Masters in Psychology from Pacifica University.  Melinda has worked as a consultant with executives and businesses for over 20 years.  As a result of her experience and studies, she has developed a unique craft to fine-tune leadership development for peak performance. She lives in Colorado with her big, beautiful dog, Stryder.

Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.

Success Starts With You

Global Executive Coach

309 Paseo Rd., Carbondale, CO 81623


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4 Responses to Fine Tuning Empathy and the Art of Listening

  1. Pingback: 3 Tips to Effective Communication for Confident Nursing Teams

  2. Elissa Menasse says:

    Empathy is the cornerstone of connection. I have been trying to learn NVC (Non-Violent Communication) by Marshall Rosenberg. One of NVC’s foundational concepts is empathy. We also need to practice self-empathy.
    When we do we are more connected to ourselves and therefore are able to connect to others with more facility.

  3. Beth Boynton says:

    Thank you so much for this extremely important post, Melinda. Empathy is essential to healthy inter-professional and therapeutic relationships and therefore everything we are trying to accomplish in healthcare. I want to recommend your the EQi – 2.0 assessment to readers too. I completed the assessment (about 15 min) and received very interesting and useful feedback. I can imagine this to be a great tool for leaders and staff.

    Also, I love how wise those old Greek Guys like Aristotle were and one of my favorite quotes is “All learning has an emotional basis” –Plato!

    And have to add that medical improv is a great experiential teaching process for building soft skills like empathy!

    • Melinda Fouts says:

      Beth, thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comments. Everyone who has taken the assessment and worked with me have gained greater insight and strengthened areas that needed improvement, balancing all components from self-awareness to decision making and stress tolerance.

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