The Powerful Impact of Empathetic Listening

May 24, 2023
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

Last week, I read an article with some startling information.

According to Gallup:

The percentage of U.S. adults who report having been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lifetime has reached 29.0%, nearly 10 percentage points higher than in 2015. The percentage of Americans who currently have or are being treated for depression has also increased, to 17.8%, up about seven points over the same period.

For quite awhile now, when I speak to organizations, I’ve referenced the paradox we‘re experiencing in the U.S. today. We have the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. We live in a society of peace and relative prosperity, but we have the highest levels of anxiety we’ve had in decades. Gallup’s report only bolsters that observation.

Along these same lines, a couple of weeks ago, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released an advisory detailing an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” that affects the country. It also laid out a framework for a “National Strategy to Advance Social Connection.”

Within that framework document, I found this piece of information:

Importantly, social connection also seems to protect against depression even in people with a higher probability of developing the condition. For example, frequently confiding in others is associated with up to 15% reduced odds of developing depression among people who are already at higher risk due to their history of traumatic or otherwise adverse life experiences.

Confiding in others requires a level of trust that one only has when they feel like the other is really, truly listening. I have seen firsthand how the course we teach on empathetic listening within Barry-Wehmiller has had a profoundly positive impact both inside our company and on our team members’ personal lives.

True listening, deep listening can make an incredible difference in the life of another person.

According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, this may be one of the most effective tools to aid someone in a mental health crisis.

This is from an article on the NCMW website, “The Quiet Power of Empathic Listening.”

We hear a lot about active listening – listening and responding to another person to improve mutual understanding. For people in roles like a nurse or doctor, engaging and responding while listening is an ideal strategy. Checking information during a conversation helps ensure patients receive the correct treatments and medications.

But for situations when someone is experiencing symptoms of a mental health crisis, there is another kind of listening that can be more effective: empathetic listening. For a person experiencing a mental health problem, having an empathetic listener can be calming and reassuring – even healing.

Empathy, unlike sympathy, does not mean we agree with the other person or see things from the same point of view. Instead, it requires taking a moment to step outside of our normal patterns of thinking and feeling to imagine what it feels like to be the person in front of us.

Time and again, I’ve written that listening is the most important thing a leader can do. But it transcends the leader role. Listening is the most important thing we, as humans, can do for one another. It shows empathy, it shows you care, and most importantly, it shows the person you are listening to that they matter.

We are not taught to listen in our society. So much value is placed on speaking, but not listening. How many listening classes do you see in schools or colleges? They have “speech” classes and debate teams. The skill of listening is special and we need to be taught how to do it well.

Learning the skills to become an effective listener will not only make you a better leader, but a better human being as well. This is why we teach listening internally, not just because it is good for our business, but because it’s good for our people.

Our empathetic listening course has proven so powerful that we offer it to communities and outside organizations through the non-profit my wife Cynthia and I founded, the Chapman Foundation for Caring Communities, and through Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute, our leadership consulting firm.

If our educational institutions and business organizations taught the skills of empathetic listening, we could see beyond this world of anxiety and tension to the better world we imagine.

True empathetic listening, where one actually hears the other person’s words and feelings, builds empathy as it allows us to see things from others' perspectives. It is the key to all meaningful relationships as it shows that you respect and care for the person you are hearing.

If you want to start becoming a better listener, below you’ll find links to every video in our Coffee Conversations video series, which takes the principles in our Listen Like a Leader communication skills class at Barry-Wehmiller and breaks them into entertaining and easily digestible lessons.

As you watch and start incorporating these principles into your daily life, I’m sure you’ll see a difference. You’ll help those around you feel like they matter and you’ll create deeper and more meaningful relationships. The way we actualize caring is through empathetic listening.

Listening is the key to creating a better world—hopefully, a world where there is less depression and anxiety.


Related Posts

David VanderMolen / Jun 16, 2021
Coffee Conversations Ep. 11: I Am the Message
David VanderMolen / Nov 3, 2021
Coffee Conversations Ep. 13: Behave!

Need help in applying principles of Truly Human Leadership in your organization? Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute is Barry-Wehmiller's leadership consulting firm that partners with other companies to create strategic visions, engage employees, improve corporate culture and develop outstanding leaders through leadership training, assessments and workshops.

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