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3 Keys to Empathetic Listening

One of the key metrics for spiritual health is empathetically listening to others. Not only is it a sign of your spiritual health it will assist others in growing in their spiritual health. Spiritual health is the degree in which we receive God’s love for ourselves and share it with others. When we empathetically listen to others we give them the safe and inviting space to say out loud the things that are keeping them from receiving and giving love. Speaking the deep fears, hurts, and resentments of our lives and being heard and felt brings healing to our broken trust system.

So how do we listen in such a way that people feel heard and felt enough to speak the truth about their lives? Here are three keys to empathetic listening:

Check your ego at the door. A 2013 study from the Max Planck Institute revealed that the main obstacle for having empathy is when we project our feelings on other people. This projection of our feelings is referred to as emotional egocentricity bias (EEB), which is the tendency to rely too heavily on one’s perspective and/or have a higher opinion of oneself than reality. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3)

I am not saying we are all egomaniacs, but we live in our perspectives most of the time. Even our mood when we are speaking to someone can impact how we hear people. The 2013 study showed that if a person was in a happy mood that they assumed that everyone else they spoke to must also be happy. Our feelings and perspective color the way we see and hear others. We have to check our egos at the door and allow the other person’s perspectives to rise to the top of our perceptions.

Pay attention to feelings. While it is very important to listen to the words another is speaking, it is their feelings that carry a deeper meaning. We have to tap into our ability to feel what other people are feeling (another of our spiritual health metrics) to truly understand what is being said.

Being able to parse out another person’s feelings from your own requires a degree of self-differentiation (one of the 3 primary factors of spiritual health). We must be aware of our feelings in the moment. This awareness then helps us to tap into another person’s feelings without losing our sense of self.

Realize that transformation comes from their words about their life, not your words. This is a hard thing for most of us to accept. We so often think we know better and so we tend to dispense advice and solutions. 

Psychiatrist Curt Thompson wrote, “Transformation requires a collaborative interaction, with one person emphatically listening and responding to the other so that the speaker has the experience, perhaps for the first time, of feeling felt by another.” Speaking and being heard and felt by another person leads to healing and, ultimately, transformation. 

Self-help seminars, books, and sermons can give us helpful information, but nothing can replace the power of empathetic listening.

If you would like to be listened to in this way, please considering scheduling a spiritual health coaching session. If you would like to learn about spiritual health and become certified in our model of spiritual health and the GPS Spiritual Inventory for your practice please contact us at

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